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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Supports Legislation that Halts Administration Policy of Separating Children from their Parents at the Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined 31 of her Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to keep immigrant families together by preventing the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border.

The Keep Families Together Act, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children.

“Tearing families apart and traumatizing children is wrong and immoral,” said Senator Baldwin. “This legislation restores a humane approach that respects individuals seeking asylum in our country and ensures children and parents are not separated at our border.”

On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum. This policy, which has never before been pursued, has resulted in parents being separated from their children. Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may also violate the United States’ obligations under international law, including the U.N. convention on refugees and its Protocol.

To ensure the bill protects the welfare of children, it allows children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents. To provide an additional layer of protection, the bill provides for an immediate review by a superior upon the recommendation to separate, and only after consultation with a child welfare expert.

The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Children’s Law Center and the Young Center for Immigrant Rights.

In addition to Senators Baldwin and Feinstein, the bill is cosponsored by 31 senators, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

The Keeping Families Together Act will:

  • Keep families together: The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis. Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish public policy preference for family reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Implement procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated. Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand. In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with a weekly report containing information about a child.
  • Establish other required measures: In order to inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding of the use family separation, the bill requires an annual report on the separation of families. Additionally, the bill requires the GAO examine the prosecution of asylum seekers.

The full text of the Keeping Families Together Act is available here.

In addition, Senator Baldwin also joined 39 of her Senate colleagues in a letter urging the Trump Administration to stop further traumatizing children and end the inhumane policy of separating children from their families at the southern border.

“We are writing to ask that you reverse course on your inhumane decision to separate children from their parents at the border,” the Senators said in a letter to President Trump. “This policy has traumatized children who are fleeing extreme violence. Our government has a humanitarian duty to the children and families seeking asylum in the United States to end this policy immediately.”

“Best practices in child welfare promote keeping children and their parents together unless removal is in the child’s best interest,” the Senators added. “Unnecessarily separating more children from their parents will further exacerbate the lack of home-based foster care placements available and increase the use of large-capacity institutional settings, such as abandoned military bases, to house these children.”

The full text of the letter is available here.