June 28, 2018

Udall Amendment Requires HHS Transparency on Family Separation

Directs HHS to make information on migrant children publicly available online, provide weekly public updates on family reunification

Udall: “We need and the public deserves transparency about these children and how soon they are being reunited with their families”

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall secured passage of an amendment to require public transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about its care for thousands of children separated from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Bill.

The underlying bipartisan bill requires HHS to report weekly information to the Senate Appropriations Committee about migrant children under the care of the department. Udall’s amendment builds on those transparency requirements, directing HHS to make this information available publicly on its website on a monthly basis, and also to provide weekly public updates on its website of the number of children who have been reunited with separated family members. Udall’s amendment was adopted as part of a bipartisan package on a unanimous voice vote amid congressional and judicial calls for the Trump administration to immediately reunite families separated at the border. Many members of Congress, the public, and the news media have sought complete and verifiable information about exactly how many children have been reunited ever since President Trump issued an executive order last week to supposedly halt his administration’s practice of separating children from their families at the border.

Last week, Udall, along with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), traveled to the border to demand answers about the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Udall was part of the first group of members of Congress to tour the temporary tent facility in Tornillo, Texas, where children separated from their parents are being detained.

Udall delivered the following statement during today’s committee meeting:

“I would like thank Senators Blunt and Murray for working with me and my staff to include important information about the children who were separated from their families as a result of the administration’s zero tolerance policy. I join Senator Murray in her comments about this. This bill provides important transparency for these 2,000-plus children who are now under the care of HHS.

“The report language drafted in bipartisan cooperation from this committee includes important requirements for HHS to report weekly information to the committee about migrant children under the care of the department. The reports include the number of children referred to HHS care, their length of stay with HHS and the number of children released to sponsors, among other things. This information importantly discerns between children who arrived at the border unaccompanied and those who arrived and were separated from their family.

“I took a trip last weekend down to the Tornillo facility, and saw some of the conditions there, and saw the separation and the damage it was doing to these kids. And I also requested of the two senators here that this information also be posted publicly on the HHS website. I am happy that Senators Blunt and Murray agreed and that HHS will be required to share this information.

“We need and the public deserves transparency about these children and how soon they are being reunited with their families.”

The full text of the report language, along with Udall’s amendment, is below:

Committee Report Language on Child Separation Transparency (Udall Amendment in Bold)
In addition, the Committee directs HHS to include in its existing weekly updates additional information, including, for both all UACs and the children who were apprehended as part of a family unit, the number of children referred to HHS, the number currently in their care, the age and gender distribution of children, the average length of stay, the number of preteen children in both shelter beds and ORR-run foster care programs, the number of children released to sponsors, and the category of sponsor. The weekly updates should also include historical monthly totals for all information provided, updated as it becomes available. The Committee directs HHS to make this monthly information available publicly on its website, and to provide weekly updates on its website of the number of children who have been reunited with separated family members. The Committee also expects that separated families will have the opportunity to communicate regularly by telephone with one another and directs HHS to provide any updates in the mechanisms for facilitating contact between children and verified family members with whom they arrived at the border, and the number of children who have been reunited with those family members. Finally, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 and the Flores agreement require that all UACs should be transferred from DHS to HHS within 72 hours and promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. The Committee directs HHS to notify the Committee immediately should children remain in DHS custody longer than 72 hours before being transferred to HHS.