Congresswoman Jackie Speier

Proudly Representing San Francisco and the Peninsula

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Families Belong Together

As the Representative of a district with a rich history of immigration, I am horrified by the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which has resulted in the separation of thousands of families at the U.S. border, and by its efforts to detain families indefinitely. Our federal courts have worked to curb the President’s attempts to legalize cruelty toward immigrant families by ordering the reunification of all families, preventing arbitrary detention of asylum seekers, and denying the Administration’s proposal to demolish the Flores agreement, which prevents the government from detaining migrant children for more than 20 days. However, I have little faith in this Administration’s ability and intention to fully comply with these mandates. Already, horrifying reports have emerged that the Administration has deported parents without their children and destroyed records needed to reunite families.

In June, I led a group of Democratic House Members to South Texas to visit Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration facilities and a Health and Human Services (HHS) child shelter to see the impact of this policy up close. We saw small children without parents crowded in cells and sleeping on cold concrete floors with foil blankets. We saw a little girl crying as she used her mother as a pillow in the cell that they were imprisoned in for over a day. I held a nine-month-old baby who was taken from his family. I spoke with mothers who were detained in prison-like settings for more than three weeks, with no contact with their children who had been taken from them. They wept as they confided their worst fears – that they would never see their children again. One woman was given an address to write to if she wanted to place her child in foster care; she was inconsolable. The suffering and despair we witnessed will haunt me forever and now that my eyes have been opened to the depth of this Administration’s callousness, I will not stop fighting until every child and their family have been reunited.

I was also struck by the obvious lack of record-keeping practices or information infrastructure to ensure that parents, family members, and guardians are concurrently tracked in DHS and HHS systems. This disorganization clearly added to the suffering experienced by these children and their families. Many of the women had no idea where their children were, how to contact them, or what would happen next. I saw firsthand what a U.S. District Court affirmed in Ms. L et al v U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al – that the government’s execution of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy “arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child” and “shocks the conscience.”

I understood immediately what the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Colleen Wright, meant when she said these conditions “can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child’s brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress – known as toxic stress – can carry lifelong consequences for children.”

After visiting these facilities and meeting children, parents, and other family members who have been ripped apart it’s clear that “zero tolerance” is really zero humanity. It’s also clear that the Administration’s proposal for family detention would just be an extension of the Administration’s sadistic treatment of immigrants. I am deeply concerned that even short-term detainment in the prison-like conditions I saw at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center will exacerbate the trauma caused by separation. This kind of inhumanity should be a nonstarter for any nation with a moral compass, especially when alternatives to detention – such as the Family Case Management Program – have a stellar success record and cost far less taxpayer money.

These are the facts: The Family Case Management Program (FCMP) costs the government $36 a day, per family. That is compared to $319 per-person, per-day for a family detention center bed or $775 per person, per day in a tent city. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), overall program compliance under the FCMP was 99% for check-ins and appointments, and 100% for court hearings. The Trump Administration defunded this incredibly successful program in June, 2017 without explanation.

For other immigrants, the Intensive Supervision Alternative Program (ISAP), which allowed case workers and immigration officers to track immigrants with GPS ankle monitors linked to a cell phone app and also required regular phone check-ins using voice recognition software, resulted in 99.6% compliance rate for court appearances.

And though ICE announced on July 10, 2018 that “parents with children under the age of 5 are being reunited with their children and then released and enrolled into an alternative detention program,” immigration lawyers and advocates note that this is not the case with more than half of the children under the age of 5 whose families were deemed ineligible for reunification. This also does not include scores of children who are 5 and older. I’ve received reports that some parents of children over the age of 5 still haven’t spoken to their children or have any idea where they are, including the mother of one child who missed the cutoff for the initial release date by only a couple of weeks, despite promises from ICE officials to me and my congressional colleagues that  the parents with whom we met would be able to call their children.

It is clear to anyone with a conscience and even a rudimentary understanding of the law that this barbaric practice must end immediately. The President must rescind his Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and comply with all court requirements to halt family separation. The Administration must immediately reunite all separated families, and ensure telephonic contact between separated family members. And Congress must hold the President and his Administration accountable for any failure to do so.

Action Taken:

  • Led a 25 Member congressional delegation to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) McAllen Border Patrol Station and Centralized Processing Center and the Port Isabel Service Processing Center, where ICE detains separated parents. You can view my press release here and media coverage here, here, here and here.
  • Visited the Southwest Keys “tender age” shelter, Casa Presidente, where children ranging from infants to adolescents are housed after separation or after crossing the border unaccompanied.
  • Co-hosted a Congressional Democratic Women’s Working Group and Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform session focused on ending family separation.
  • Served as an honorary co-host for the YWCA’s congressional briefing, A Report Back from the Border: What’s Needed & What’s Next for Immigrant Families.
  • Cosponsored H.R. 927, Condemning the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy.
  • Led a Letter to DHS calling for answers to several questions and concerns raised by the congressional delegation visit to the Texas facilities, including parental access to essential information about their children, record-keeping processes to ensure separated family members are tracked concurrently, and the status of families after they are reunited.
  • Led a letter to HHS demanding transparency and answers to questions raised by the Administration’s use of DNA testing to reunite families, including how the Administration will ensure the human rights of migrant families are respected. A copy of the press release and letter can be found here and here.