06.08.18

Leahy Joins Feinstein And Other Senate Democrats In Introducing Legislation To Halt Separation Of Immigrant Families At The Border

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a leading member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 30 other senators 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 Keeping Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children.  The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center and the Young Center for Immigrant Rights.

Leahy said:  “There is simply no way to sanitize the cruelty of Trump administration’s policy of forcibly separating families at the border.  The anguish we are inflicting is evident in the story of each parent who is losing a child — parents who are often from indescribable violence in their home countries.  Traumatizing vulnerable children by tearing them away from their parents abandons our history and identity as the humanitarian leader of the world.  Americans must stand together in condemning this abhorrent policy, and I am proud to support this legislation to put a stop to it.”

Feinstein said:  “The United States must not be a country that traumatizes young children by separating them from their parents. Young children have been taken from their parents’ arms and federal law enforcement hasn’t given parents even the most basic information about their children’s whereabouts.  Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand and say that families should not be forcibly separated. Many of these families are fleeing terrible violence, traveling thousands of miles on foot for the chance to file an asylum claim and save their lives. To traumatize them further is unconscionable, and I hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to put an end to this immoral policy.”

American Academy of Pediatrics President Colleen Kraft MD, MBA, FAAP said:  “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges an immediate end to the policy that separates children from their parents at the border.  Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians – protecting and promoting children’s health.  We know that highly-stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm to children’s health, disrupting their brain architecture and affecting short- and long-term health. The Keep Families Together Act takes important steps forward to protect families, and the AAP thanks Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for her leadership on this issue.”

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 UN convention on refugees and its Protocol.

At a May 24, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Customs and Border Protection testified that 658 children were taken from 638 parents during a 14-day period in May, an average of 47 children being taken from their parents each day.

To ensure that 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.

In addition to Feinstein and Leahy, the bill is cosponsored by 31 senators, including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).

Leahy spoke out against the family separation policy on Tuesday on the Senate Floor, highlighting testimony from parents who had been separated from their children.  Text of his speech is HERE and video is HERE.

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