February 07, 2019

Harris and Wyden Lead Colleagues in Reintroduction of Legislation to Improve Resettlement Process for Unaccompanied Children, Protect Sponsors

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), re-introduced the Families Not Facilities Act, legislation that would prohibit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from using information gathered in the process of resettling unaccompanied immigrant children to take civil enforcement actions prospective sponsors and all individuals who reside with them. The legislation would also redirect ICE funding to programs that would provide for the safety and welfare of unaccompanied children. 

“No potential sponsor who intends to build a safe and nurturing home for an unaccompanied immigrant child should be deterred from coming forward due to fear of a civil ICE enforcement action,” said Harris. “This is leaving these vulnerable children to languish in unacceptable conditions in government custody. Unaccompanied children at the border deserve our compassion and assistance, and we must do more to ensure that our government is respecting the human rights and dignity of the youngest among us.”

“At every turn, this administration has put its hate-filled immigration agenda over the best interests of children,” said Wyden. “If this administration won’t ensure these kids have the support and care they deserve, then Congress must.”

“Keeping unaccompanied children in detention facilities indefinitely and forcing them to live in tent cities is inhumane,” said Cortez Masto. “Our guiding principle in caring for these children should always be to do no harm. The prospective sponsors, many of whom are family members, should be able to care for these children during their time of need without fear of deportation. We must continue to do all we can to ensure the safety and welfare of families and children who are fleeing violence to find a safe and secure life in the United States.”

“It’s absolutely abhorrent that this Administration is using information collected from children held in government facilities for immigration enforcement purposes against potential sponsors,” said Gillibrand. “Rather than complicating and delaying already-challenging reunification efforts, we need to be doing everything we can to move children out of government facilities and into safe homes. This legislation would prioritize their safety and well-being, and I urge my colleagues to pass this bill into law.”

“It is unconscionable to think of using unaccompanied immigrant children as some kind of bait to collect their loved ones’ information and target them for deportation,” said Blumenthal. “The Trump Administration has incited an understandable fear of retribution in potential sponsors. As a result, children have been left in detention facilities instead of being placed in loving homes. Our legislation would prioritize the health, safety, and wellbeing of immigrant children and prevent the Trump Administration from targeting potential sponsors after they’ve come forward to offer them a safe home.”

The Families Not Facilities Act would:

  • Prohibit the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from using U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) information provided by an unaccompanied child, or initially obtained to evaluate sponsorship of an unaccompanied child, to conduct civil immigration enforcement actions against a child, prospective or current custodian or sponsor, or resident in the home of the prospective or current custodian or sponsor.
  • Transfer ICE FY2019 Enforcement and Removal Funding to the new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) programs intended to provide unaccompanied children with comprehensive social work services and connect them with legal representation. It also transfers funds to the FBI’s Violent Crimes Against Children Program and the HHS Task Force to Prevent and End Human Trafficking.
  • Create an ORR Advisory Committee on Shelters comprised of nonprofit immigration and child welfare experts and require the committee to publish public reports on their findings. 

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