On July 25, 2019, the House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing entitled “Oversight of Family Separation and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Short-Term Custody under the Trump Administration” to examine the situation of detention at the US and Mexico border and the situations in which families are being separated there.

In his opening statement, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) stated “family separation is just one component of this crisis, as it is clear that conditions at border facilities have deteriorated to an unconscionable level,” and that the reports of overcrowding and lack of sanitation at the border are likely not the exception to the rule, as the Administration would like people to believe. He also said “To be clear, this hearing is not an attack on individual border patrol agents, but is an examination of the Trump Administration’s policies and the culture of disdain and cruelty towards immigrants that stems from the White House and has deeply infected the agency. The inhumane treatment of children and families at the border must be examined in the context of these incidents.”

Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) abruptly stopped giving his opening statement, and claimed that it is “dehumanizing to (be) talking about… ideas and never doing anything” and that “a competent and capable majority would put a bill forward.”

Testimonies were given by Mr. Brian S. Hastings from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Mr. Jonathan H. Hayes from the Office of Refugee Resettlement; Commander Jonathan White from the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps; Mr. Joseph B. Edlow from the U.S. Department of Justice; and Ms. Dina R. Shaw from the Office of Inspector General.

During individual questioning, Chairman Nadler said that since the Zero Tolerance Policy was enacted, there have been over 850 complaints of separation, many of which are young children and have little to no warning that the separation will take place, and asked Mr. Hastings if Border Patrol often tricked families into separation, to which Mr. Hastings said that border patrol was simply enacting policies they were told to carry out and they went through trainings to separate families, always giving them some warning of the separation. Mr. Nadler also asked how family reunification happened in the case of a deportation and if Border Patrol paid attention to special needs before a transfer. Mr. Hastings said that deportation and reunification are not under the same department, so he was unaware and that HHS was always notified if a child had special needs.

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (D-TX) began by saying that there will now be an entire generation of Central American Children who have been damaged by border policies and that one third of children currently in U.S. custody do not have an identifiable sponsor, so they will be held indefinitely. She added that there are currently 11,000 people in Mexico waiting for asylum, which is a violation of international law. Mr. Hastings said that if fear is not claimed, asylum is not granted, providing example of reports from El Paso of people who claimed fear and were not granted asylum. Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO) asked Mr. Hastings about the multibillion dollar human smuggling industry and its implications at the border and Mr. Hastings stated that this is benefiting the cartel and criminals, who make money off of selling children that people use to get into the country and do not take care of the child. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) inquired about the implications of the Zero Tolerance Policy on Children and Mr. White stated that he advised against the Zero Tolerance Policy on February 17, 2019 because of the detriment it could be to children’s development. It was noted several times during the hearing that there are several bills that are currently being worked on to help serve the humanitarian crisis at the border.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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