June 21, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined a group of 48 U.S. Senators in calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the Trump administration’s treatment of children coming across the Southern border.
Following yesterday’s Executive Order, new questions have been raised about whether the children who have already been separated will be reunited with their families, and how children will be treated going forward.
The Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy “is responsible for hundreds of children being forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. “This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the United States demands immediate and direct Congressional oversight.”
Earlier this week, Senator King spoke on the Senate floor to argue against this policy and push back on justifications used to defend its continued use. He is an original cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, which would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from continuing this policy, and earlier this month joined a group of his colleagues in sending a letter urging the Administration to end the policy immediately.
The full letter is available here and below.
Dear Chairman Grassley,
I write to respectfully request an oversight hearing regarding the administration’s new “Zero Tolerance” family separation policy, announced by Attorney General Sessions on May 7, 2018. This policy is responsible for hundreds of children being forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled “unaccompanied alien children” (UAC), and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the United States demands immediate and direct Congressional oversight.
While limited media reports and Senate hearings have shed some light on the “Zero Tolerance” policy, the exact scope and impact remains unclear. For example, during a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official stated that between May 6, 2018 and May 19, 2018, 638 adults were referred for prosecution, who had a total of 658 children with them. According to another report, the Department of Health and Human Services identified 10,900 unaccompanied minors in its custody as of May 31, 2018, with 959 separated from family units since May 6, 2018. These snapshots provide some useful context, but the data largely fails to show how many children have been forced into UAC status over the entire time this policy has been in effect.
In addition to definitive accounting of the number of children rendered unaccompanied by the “Zero Tolerance” policy, the Senate must seek answers from the administration on the standards of care including staffing ratios, credentials for contractors, and background checks. How soon after separation from their parents are children granted access to comprehensive health care services, including trauma support and mental health services, and under what conditions are children permitted to communicate with their parents and attorneys?
These questions and many others must be promptly and thoroughly examined in order for the Senate to fulfil its duty to oversee the administration’s new “Zero Tolerance” Policy.
 Miroff, Nick. "Trump's 'zero Tolerance' at the Border Is Causing Child Shelters to Fill up Fast." The Washington Post. May 29, 2018.