U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris and 16 Senate lawmakers sent a letter this week to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling for immediate action to reunite the families of 539 immigrant children still in government custody who were separated from their parents at the Southwestern border because of the Trump Administration’s ineffective and cruel “zero tolerance” policy. The letter stresses how each passing day that DHS fails to act to reunite separated immigrant children with their parents unacceptably exacerbates trauma for these children and their families seeking humanitarian protection, including psychological and physical developmental harms to children.
“We call on DHS to take immediate action to locate every deported parent abroad whose separated child remains in government custody,” wrote the senators. “DHS should offer these parents an opportunity to return to the United States on a grant of humanitarian parole (under Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(d)) to reunite with their child. Such reunited families in turn should be released into the community to pursue claims for asylum or other forms of protection for which they may be eligible.”
The senators continued, “We ask DHS to immediately inform all such parents, child advocates, and attorneys of record for parents and children about specific bases of determinations of ineligibility for family reunification and provide them with all evidence supporting such determinations. Parents in turn must be given an opportunity, with the assistance of counsel, to rebut any such evidence. If there is credible evidence that a parent poses an imminent risk of harm to their child and a parent is unable to rebut that evidence, a state child welfare agency, not the federal government, is the appropriate entity to determine whether there is abuse or neglect or a child cannot safely be placed in their parent’s care.”
In addition to Senator Harris, the letter was signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).