Policy

House Appropriators Seek Details on Family Separations, Citing ‘Hearts, Not Just Our Heads’

Push comes on the eve of DHS spending bill markup

Subcommittee chairman Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., left, and full committee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., are seen during a House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee markup of the FY2019 Homeland Security Appropriations bill in the Rayburn Building on July 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House appropriators are using a committee report on the fiscal 2019 Homeland Security spending bill to probe the Trump administration’s separation of more than 2,500 undocumented children from their parents as it races to meet a Thursday deadline requiring their reunification.

The report’s release Tuesday morning comes on the eve of the full Appropriations Committee’s markup of the draft DHS spending bill, which would provide $51.4 billion in discretionary funding for DHS, nearly an 8 percent increase over the $47.7 billion provided in fiscal 2018.

The committee directs DHS to provide Congress a detailed report on the separations, which mostly occurred in April and May before President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the practice after drawing sharp rebukes from lawmakers from both parties.

The administration’s report “should discuss policies in effect both prior and subsequent to the implementation” of the June 20 executive order, the committee’s report says, “and shall include a description of any guidance to field personnel on implementation of such policies [and] a description of the process for reuniting families that are separated as a result of the prosecution of an adult family member.”

It also instructs DHS “to ensure, when appropriate and feasible,” that separated families are reunited and kept together for the duration of their time in government custody.

The department is also “expected to ensure that individuals being transferred from CBP to ICE custody, in ICE custody, or under ICE supervision have opportunities to report family separations and to verify the status, location, and disposition of family members, and to regularly communicate with one another by phone or video conference,” the report says.

Of the 2,551 children ages five to 17 who were separated from a parent, 1,634 have been identified as “possibly eligible for reunification,” according to figures released by the Health and Human Services Department late Monday. Of those, 879 have been reunited and another 538 are cleared for reunification. An additional 217 have been released from government custody, HHS said.

The administration is up against a federal judge’s Thursday deadline to reunite as many of the separated children as possible.

Another 917 children are either not eligible or “not yet known to be eligible” for reunification, according to HHS. Of those, 463 cannot be reunited because their parents were deported or are otherwise no longer thought to be in the United States. Sixty-four cannot be returned because their parents have a “prohibitive” criminal record or were deemed ineligible.

Finally, the parents of 130 children waived their right to reunification, HHS said. Another 260 are being held for further evaluation. In total, 900 of the children have been issued final deportation orders.

The family separations will likely dominate Wednesday’s markup, especially since Republicans are proposing funds for ICE to hire more than 400 new law enforcement officers and to increase its capacity for immigrant detention by nearly 3,500 beds. At a subcommittee markup last week, Democrats said they would offer numerous amendments scaling back the bill’s enforcement funding.

Still, Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas, the new chairman of the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, has already touted the report’s language, expressing a desire to fund a compassionate but tough immigration agenda that simultaneously keeps families together and secures the border.

At last week’s subcommittee markup, Yoder said the legislation “simply uses our hearts, not just our heads, as we adhere to the rule of law.”

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