July 10, 2018

Udall Calls for Immediate Disclosure of Information on Children Separated from Families

‘Failure to be open and honest about the number, status and fate of these children will not be tolerated by Congress or the public’

Udall’s bipartisan amendment directs HHS to make information publicly available about separated children on weekly and monthly basis

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) demanded that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) immediately disclose critical information about the thousands of children who have been separated from their families as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S. border. In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Udall decried the Trump administration’s chaotic, ineffective, and opaque process for reuniting these children with their families and the administration’s refusal to provide transparency to the public and Congress about the children currently under HHS care.

“Recent news reports and statements from administration officials indicate a chaotic and ineffective process with no guarantee of success, such that many Americans—including myself and many of my constituents from New Mexico—are concerned that many of these young children are not being reunited with their parents. In such a situation, we must have full public transparency about the status and fate of these children, as called for by bipartisan action in the Senate Appropriations Committee late last month.” Udall wrote.

“It is difficult to ask the public to trust this administration’s claims about reuniting children in light of HHS’ ongoing refusal to be transparent about the number and status of children currently in the care of HHS, the number of children who have been reunited with their families and the discrepancy in numbers your agency has produced,” Udall continued. “Just last week, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) released new figures acknowledging that there may be as many as 3,000 children who were separated from a parent as a result of the administration’s policy. The public and members of Congress have made repeated calls and requests for this information, including at public events attended by thousands of people in New Mexico and around the country, and I write to urge you to immediately begin publicly disclosing critical information about these children.”

As he noted, in late June, Udall secured passage of an amendment to require public transparency from 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.

“Given the clear bipartisan support for disclosing this information to Congress and the public, HHS should implement these measures immediately. Unfortunately, your department appears to be issuing defensive public statements and actually reducing their disclosure of information to Congress and the Senate Appropriations Committee instead.” Udall continued. “Failure to be open and honest about the number, status and fate of these children will not be tolerated by Congress or the public.”

The full text of Udall’s letter is available below and here.

Dear Secretary Azar:

I am deeply concerned about the process that is supposed to reunite children who were separated as a result of the Trump Administration’s callous “Zero Tolerance” policy for migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S. border. Recent news reports and statements from Administration officials indicate a chaotic and ineffective process with no guarantee of success, such that many Americans—including myself and many of my constituents from New Mexico—are concerned that many of these young children are not being reunited with their parents. In such a situation, we must have full public transparency about the status and fate of these children, as called for by bipartisan action in the Senate Appropriations Committee late last month.

It is difficult to ask the public to trust this Administration’s claims about reuniting children in light of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) ongoing refusal to be transparent about the number and status of children currently in the care of HHS, the number of children who have been reunited with their families and the discrepancy in numbers your agency has produced. Just last week, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) released new figures acknowledging that there may be as many as 3,000 children who were separated from a parent as a result of the Administration’s policy. The public and members of Congress have made repeated calls and requests for this information, including at public events attended by thousands of people in New Mexico and around the country, and I write to urge you to immediately begin publicly disclosing critical information about these children.

You should be aware that on June 28, 2018, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Bill that includes important new transparency requirements. The provision is included on page 151 of the bipartisan Committee report and it directs HHS to:

1. Report weekly information to the Senate Appropriations Committee about migrant children under the care of the department;
2. Include in those weekly reports information “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”;
3. Include in those weekly updates “historical monthly totals for all information provided, updated as it becomes available” to enable the Committee to track the progress of HHS and DHS in reuniting separated children with their families.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also included my amendment on a unanimous voice vote which “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.”

Given the clear bipartisan support for disclosing this information to Congress and the public, HHS should implement these measures immediately. Unfortunately, your Department appears to be issuing defensive public statements and actually reducing their disclosure of information to Congress and the Senate Appropriations Committee instead. I believe your personal leadership is needed to take control of this situation. Additional public transparency from HHS would be an effective communication tool and go a long way to restoring public confidence in HHS’ efforts to reunite these children with their families. Failure to be open and honest about the number, status and fate of these children will not be tolerated by Congress or the public.

Thank you for your personal attention to this matter and I look forward to your prompt action to remedy this lack of transparency about separated children.

Sincerely,