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July 19, 2018

Trump Administration Briefings Reveal No Plan to Reunite Children Before Sessions Announced “Zero Tolerance” Policy

(WASHINGTON) - Yesterday, in a seemingly coordinated attempt to quell widespread criticism of President Donald Trump’s child separation policy and his Administration’s failure to reunite these children with their parents, the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services conducted three separate briefings at 11 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm for the Committees on the Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Homeland Security, respectively.

In response, Ranking Members Elijah E. Cummings, Jerrold Nadler, and Bennie G. Thompson issued the following joint statement:

“Yesterday, Trump Administration officials made a startling confession—they had no interagency plan in place to reunite children with their parents when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy in April.  Even if they believed their new policy was the right one, how could they have been so heartless not to have planned to reunite these children with their parents?  Their admissions demonstrate a new low in the Trump Administration’s cruelty, inhumanity, and utter incompetence.

“In addition, the closed briefings we received yesterday from the Trump Administration were completely useless in terms of providing the information we have been requesting for weeks about the status of these kids.  To date, none of the agencies has complied with a request for basic information that was sent by Ranking Member Cummings and the leader of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows.  This was a bipartisan request, and the due date is today, yet Trump Administration officials have refused to comply.

“We need immediate public hearings with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to hold them accountable for their actions—and inaction—as well as their refusal to comply with bipartisan requests for basic information they are intentionally withholding from Congress.”

The three briefings were conducted by:

  • DOJ:  Joseph Edlow, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy
  • CBP:  Matthew Rogow, Acting Deputy Chief, Law Enforcement Operations Directorate
  • ICE:  Matt Albence, Executive Associate Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations
  • USCIS:  John Lafferty, Chief, Asylum Division, Refugee Asylum International Operations
  • HHS:  Commander Jonathan White, Deputy Director for Children Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement
  • HHS:  Chris Meekins, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Chief of Staff at Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

In a startling admission, Trump Administration officials admitted under questioning that they had no interagency plan to reunite children when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the President’s “zero tolerance” policy.  For example, when asked whether a reunification plan was in place on April 6, 2018, Commander White answered:  “There was not at that time a specialized plan.”  Commander White acknowledged that the Trump Administration began more detailed planning for reunifications only when forced to do so by court order.

The agencies have indicated that they will not comply with a bipartisan request for information sent on July 5, 2018, by Ranking Member Cummings and Rep. Mark Meadows seeking basic information about the status of immigrant children separated from their parents.

  • HHS sent a response letter on July 11, 2018, arguing that it would not provide the requested information because its policy is “to not publish” information about children in its custody or its care provider facilities.  The letter from Cummings and Meadows did not ask HHS to “publish” any information, but rather to submit it to Congress as part of its constitutional oversight responsibilities.
  • When asked yesterday whether the DHS would comply by today’s deadline with the bipartisan request from Cummings and Meadows, the Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE stated that he was not even aware of the request, claiming “this is the first I’ve seen it.”

Finally, despite the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally announced President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy in April—and touted the “critical” role of the Department in implementing it—the Department of Justice claimed in an email that “nearly all of these questions are within the purview of DHS and HHS, so DOJ will defer to these agencies for a substantive response.”

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Media Contacts:
Aryele Bradford (Oversight) 202-226-5181
Shadawn Reddick-Smith (Judiciary) 202-225-6906
Daniel Schwarz (Judiciary) 202-225-5635
Adam Comis (Homeland Security) 202-225-9978