Published: Wed, August 01, 2018
World News | By Laverne Osborne

Lawmakers question Trump officials on family separations, struggle to reunite them

Lawmakers question Trump officials on family separations, struggle to reunite them

Trump has gotten some wall money from Congress, and likely will get more, though the total is well short of the $25 billion he has requested. While he commended administration officials for reuniting many parents in its custody with their children, it faulted them for leaving hundreds of families still apart and warning that a better system must be in place. A federal judge in California is overseeing the reunification of those families under tight deadlines.

When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked the witnesses "what went wrong" when the government began having trouble matching detained children with parents or guardians, the most specific answer came from the public health service's White.

On Tuesday, at the first and possibly only congressional hearing on the family separation crisis, Republican senators repeatedly called for the repeal of Flores - a consent decree dating back to the mid-1990s and upheld in 2016 that stipulates that immigrants younger than 18 years old can't be held in immigration custody for longer than 20 days.

"We raised a number of concerns in the ORR programme about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interest of the child", White told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that is looking into how the policy evolved. At the time, the judge had just placed a temporary halt on the deportation of recently reunited migrant families. In addition, he wants to end the practice of releasing immigrants caught entering the country illegally on the condition that they show up for court hearings.

Finding a compromise, especially in an election year, will be hard.

"The deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants" Rights Project, Lee Gelernt, however, was stunned by Albence's comparison. "We do that through Congress", he said. "Every night the child is going to sleep thinking, 'Am I ever going to see my parents again?' It doesn't matter whether they are in palaces".

Trump campaigned on a promise of building a wall to deter illegal immigration and to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico has refused, leading Trump to look to US taxpayers to fund the endeavor instead, at least for now.

A series of court rulings and USA laws prevent the government from keeping minors in prisons or detention centers for longer than 20 days.

Top federal immigration officials are defending their handling of the Trump administration's now-abandoned family separation policy before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "They have recreational opportunities, both structured as well as unstructured", Albence said.

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The solution to that conundrum, according to Republicans, is to revoke or amend the 1997 agreement brokered between the Clinton Justice Department and attorneys representing immigrants, which is known as the Flores settlement.

In a meeting at the White House last week, GOP leaders conveyed to Trump that they were on track to approve more than half of the government spending bills before September 30, leaving more controversial matters - including the wall - until after the election. But he's stressing the need for border security and overhauling the nation's legal immigration system.

Democrats have fought back against that proposal, arguing that any prolonged detention of minors is not only inhumane, but flies against the long-held ideal of the USA serving as a beacon for downtrodden immigrants.

Democrats blasted the administration policies, but some Republicans like Iowa Sen.

"At no time did we not know where any adults that were in ICE custody were, " Albence added, stressing that once those adults were deported, the government no longer tracked them - making it hard to reunite them with their children.

The Trump administration decries such policies as "catch and release".

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, defended the officials and said Congress was also to blame for the administration's problems with handling the separated families.

Democrats say there are simple ways to fix that.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Waldman said agency officials perform their duties "professionally and humanely" and that the agency "is abiding by the intent and letter of law and maintains the highest standards care for individuals in our custody". "No one, no matter what their immigration status, should have to suffer such abuse".

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