On Thursday February 7, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held their first hearing in the 116th Congress on family separation policies in regard to immigration enforcement.

According to testimony from the Inspector General’s Office at HHS, Ann Maxwell,

“…the total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by U.S. immigration authorities and transferred to HHS for care is not known. According to HHS officials, it is certainly more—likely thousands more—than the 2,737 who meet the criteria of the Ms. L v. ICE court order. Moreover, because HHS cannot provide details specifically about children who were separated, transferred to ORR custody, and released prior to the lawsuit, whether these children were reunified with their parents remains an open question.”

Dona Abbott, Bethany Christian Services, Refugee and Immigrant Services said,

While we welcomed ORR’s decision to no longer require every adult household member to be fingerprinted, sponsor information is still being shared with ICE for the purposes of immigration enforcement. Therefore, we are no longer able to reassure sponsors that claiming their children won’t lead to their arrest and potential deportation to a country that they fled to escape violence and persecution. Sponsors are being forced to choose between the safety of their households and their children – a decision no parent should ever have to make.”

She went on to remind the audience, “While I am grateful that this hearing is examining critical policies and their impact on unaccompanied children, I want to remind the members of this committee and the public that these children are more than just numbers. These children have names and their stories matter.”

Jonathan White, Public Health Service Commissioned Corp, HHS, testified that the number of children in care have fluctuated over the past two years. He said that HHS maintains about 13,000 beds and this is up by 6,500 beds from October 2017, but down from more than 15,800 beds in November of last year.

In the question period he said he was uncertain whether HHS Secretary Azar had a heads up when the Administration announced their “zero tolerance” policy by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. White said that “Neither I nor any career person in (ORR-Office of Refugee Resettlement) would ever have supported such a policy proposal”