Oversight and Judiciary Chairs Issue Statement on IG Report on Trump’s Heinous Child Separation Policy

Jan 14, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Jan. 14, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. Jamie Raskin, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren issued the following statement in response to a new report from the Department of Justice Inspector General entitled, “Review of the Department of Justice’s Planning and Implementation of Its Zero Tolerance Policy and Its Coordination with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services”:

 

“Today’s report sheds new light on the chaos, cruelty, and reckless disregard for vulnerable children in our nation’s custody.  Our Committees and multiple independent Inspectors General have now uncovered shocking evidence that the Trump Administration sought to intentionally harm children and families as a deterrent to migration, and did not care to plan for the consequences.

 

“This dark chapter in our history must never be repeated. We look forward to Inspector General Horowitz appearing before Congress in the coming weeks to discuss this report in more detail.

 

“We are also encouraged by President-elect Biden’s commitment to create a taskforce to reunite the more than 500 children who remain separated from their parents.  It is imperative that we rectify these grave injustices, including by facilitating the reunification of these families in the United States as soon as possible and protecting them from detention and deportation.  It is the very least we can do.”

 

Several previous, non-partisan reports from the Inspectors General for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services, as well as from the Government Accountability Office, showed widespread failures to prepare for and implement the Trump Administration’s child separation policy.  Reports from both the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on the Judiciary found additional widespread problems with the planning and implementation of this policy.

 

Today’s IG report found:

 

  • The Department of Justice, especially Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top advisors, “failed to effectively prepare for, or manage, the implementation of the zero tolerance policy.”

 

  • Sessions and his top advisors ignored dire warning signs from a 2017 child separation pilot program in western Texas, failing to heed advice from their own U.S. Attorneys about widespread problems that arose during those earlier separations—the same problems that occurred during the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy Separations.

 

  • These issues included Border Patrol ignoring directives from the U.S. Attorneys, prompting one prosecutor to write:  “We have now heard of us taking breast feeding defendant moms away from their infants,  I did not believe this until I looked at the duty log and saw the fact we had accepted prosecution on [sic] moms with one and two year olds.” 

 

  • In a new revelation about a previously released December 2017 memo, Gene Hamilton, a top Sessions advisor, requested and received that memo from “the then DHS Chief of Staff.”  Chad Wolf, who recently stepped down from illegally serving as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, was the DHS Acting Chief of Staff at that time. 

 

  • Despite additional warnings from DOJ and DHS officials, Sessions and his top advisors were a “driving force” to push for mass child separations at the border.  Sessions was a key advocate for separating families, and came to a May 3 White House meeting with talking points that touted the 2017 initiative while ignoring its widespread problems: “The Western District of Texas employed a pilot program [the El Paso Initiative] that involved the prosecution of adults in family units last fall-and it worked.” 

 

  • U.S. Attorneys across the southwest border repeatedly told Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and their top advisors that they were not prepared to handle the surge of prosecutions of parents arriving with children.  Sessions ignored their pleas for help, stating on a May 11, 2018 call:  “We need to take away children.”

 

  • When the U.S. Attorneys refused to separate parents from very young children, Rosenstein told them, per a U.S. Attorney’s email to his staff,  “we should NOT be categorically declining immigration prosecutions of adults in family units because of the age of a child.”  Rosenstein continued, “AG is clear: Prosecute parents if DHS decides to separate families; use your prosecutorial discretion w/r/t [with regard to] illness, language issues; no categorial decisions w/r/t [with regard to] age; fact-based decisions ok.” 

 

  • The Inspector General found:  “Based on our interviews and document review, the OIG found no evidence that DOJ leadership engaged in discussions with the U.S. Attorneys, the USMS, or DHS, prior to the implementation of the zero tolerance policy, about a process for expediting prosecutions of family unit adults so that child separations would not occur.”

 

  • Sessions, Hamilton, and other advisors apparently believed that parents could be prosecuted quickly and separations would not be prolonged.  Even when the U.S. Attorneys informed them parents remained in custody for “3 to 7 days and a significantly longer period in some districts,” Sessions and his advisors refused to change any directives to separate all families arriving at the border.  

 

  • The Inspector General confirmed that DOJ failed to give advance notice to key agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Marshals Service, exacerbating problems with the process.  After the policy went into effect, U.S. Marshals officials warned DOJ leadership that child separations would hinder the agency’s ability to conduct other operations throughout the United States, and could cause “a Fiscal Year 2019 funding shortfall of $227 million, and a shortage of 3,000 beds,” which ultimately did occur. 

 

  • The Inspector General concluded:  “The Department’s single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact that prosecution of family unit adults and family separations would have on children traveling with them and the government’s ability to later reunite the children with their parents.” 

 

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117th Congress