July 17, 2018

Harris, Merkley, Cortez Masto Introduce Bill to Reunify and Protect Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act, a bill to immediately reunify all families and establish a permanent system of coordination between agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect detained immigrants with children. Government inaction has resulted in a failure of young migrant children being reunified with their parents, resulting in nearly 2,600 children still separated from their families who remain at risk of short and long-term health impacts as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced.

“This is a crisis created by this administration and has resulted in thousands of children being ripped from their mothers and fathers,” said Sen. Harris. “Government should be in the business of keeping families together not tearing them apart. A stunning lack of transparency and accountability has left thousands of children in need of reunification. That must happen immediately. We are better than this.”  

“Trump’s policy to deliberately inflict trauma on the children of families fleeing persecution is a dark and evil deed,” said Sen. Merkley. “We must close this chapter and do so immediately. This legislation, the REUNITE Act, creates a roadmap to move with urgency to reunite the more than 2500 children Trump has separated from their families, and to treat these families with respect and decency as they await their hearing on their asylum claims.”

“I am proud to partner with Senators Harris and Merkley to introduce this bill to ensure families torn apart by the Administration’s cruel policies are reunited immediately,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “Three weeks ago, I traveled to the US-Mexico border in an attempt to gain access to the facilities where the Trump administration is holding immigrant children. While I was prohibited from entering these child-detention facilities, I did have the opportunity to speak to detained immigrant parents. I promised them that I would do everything in my power to reunite them with their children. I’m introducing this bill to make good on that promise. It would require the Trump administration to immediately reunite separated children with their parents, ensure that separated children have access to legal counsel and contact with their parents, and creates a presumption of release on alternatives to detention, ensuring families are not detained as they pursue legal avenues of relief. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting this bill and, once and for all, reject the cruel and inhumane practice of tearing families apart.”

“The administration must stop dragging their feet on finding the parents of the children they forcefully separated, and we must insist the Trump administration reunites every child taken from his or her parent with a verifiable and transparent process,” said Sen. Menendez. “That’s why we’re introducing the REUNITE Act to ensure the reunification of families and ensure that families are not indefinitely detained. We must insist that children are seen as children and not as political pawns to advance Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade.”

"The Trump administration created this problem," said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance national director. "They need to resolve it immediately at no cost to the families. The REUNITE Act will help return nearly 3,000 migrant children to their parents after a period of prolonged, awful detention."

"We know how difficult it is for families separated by our immigration detention system to find one another,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC). “We have been locating disappeared loved ones since 2010, but there is a solution to prevent family separation. The REUNITE Act will ensure parents and children are reunited and prevent future separations by establishing a community-based alternative to detention that is humane and does not include incarceration."

The REUNITE Act:

  • Requires the DHS and HHS Secretaries to publish guidance describing how they will reunify families. This guidance must include how to ensure sustained, no-cost contact between parents and children, access to children by legal counsel and other advocates, and unannounced inspections by child welfare organizations.
  • Requires immediate reunification of children who remain separated from a parent and legal guardian.
  • Creates presumption of release on recognizance, parole, or bond for parents of separated children.
  • Restores the Family Case Management Program.
  • Creates presumption that parents will not be deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is over or the child turns 18.
  • Prohibits DHS from using information, including DNA information, obtained pursuant to this Act for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Creates privacy protections around the use of DNA testing to establish familial relationships.
  • Requires the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, and the HHS Secretary to establish the Office for Locating and Reuniting Children with Parents, an interagency office, to expedite and facilitate the reunification of children and parents separated after enter the U.S.
  • Redirects $50 million in appropriations from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for the enforcement of this Act.

The REUNITE Act has received support from the following organizations: National Immigrant Justice Center, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First, UnidosUS, Immigration Hub, Church World Service, Mainstreet Alliance, MomsRising, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Southern Border Communities Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, FIRM, Center for Community Change, National Immigration Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Center for Victims of Torture, and First Focus Campaign for Children, Association for Child Psychoanalysis, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Indivisible, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), American Academy of Pediatrics, and Earthjustice.

In addition to Senators Harris, Merkley and Cortez Masto, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Full text of the bill is available here

 

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