Cortez Masto, Harris, Merkley Reintroduce Bill to Reunify and Protect Immigrant Families
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) today joined Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in reintroducing the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act. This bill establishes a permanent system of coordination between agencies and non-governmental organizations to expedite the reunification of separated immigrant families and promote humane alternatives for asylum-seeking immigrant families.
Based on numerous recent Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services Inspector General reports and internal documents and court filings, it has become clear that this administration’s family separation crisis was far more calculated and extensive than previously reported and that government systems to reunify separated families remain entirely inadequate. The administration has failed to fully comply with federal court orders to reunite families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy.
Alarmingly, HHS’ IG revealed earlier this year that the administration previously separated additional thousands more children and parents or guardians with no system in place to track and reunify these families. The IG recommended “continued efforts to improve communication, transparency, and accountability for the identification, care, and placement of separated children.”
“Children continue to be separated from their mothers and fathers at our southern border eight months after President Trump announced an end to his inhumane family separation policy,” said Cortez Masto. “The lack of transparency and blatant lies from this Administration continue to demonstrate that this President and his Secretary of Homeland Security cannot be trusted to bring these families back together. That’s why I’ve partnered with Senators Harris and Merkley to hold this President accountable by introducing legislation requiring the immediate reunification of children with their parents.”
“Last year, Americans were shocked to see pictures of children in cages and to hear toddlers crying out for their parents. The administration has failed to live up to their commitment to reunite families separated at the border,” said Harris. “The REUNITE Act would ensure that our government agencies have the resources they need to expedite the process of family reunification. We must do better for these children and families.”
“Trump’s policy to deliberately inflict trauma on the children of families fleeing persecution is a dark and evil deed that continues to this day,” said Merkley. “As a nation, we should live up to our ideals by treating families fleeing persecution with respect and decency as they await a hearing on their asylum claims. That means doing everything in our power to reunite children with their families.”
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 entering 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: Human Rights First, Church World Service, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Social Workers, First Focus Campaign for Children, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Main Street Alliance, Indivisible, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), Community Change Action, Freedom for Immigrants, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Immigration Hub, National Council of Jewish Women, Earth Justice, UnidosUS, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), YWCA, Union of Reform Judaism, Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Franciscan Action Network, Hispanic Federation, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Good Shepherd, MomsRising, Center for Victims of Torture, and Ounce of Prevention, and Southern Border Communities Coalition.
In addition to Senators Cortez Masto, Harris and Merkley, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.).
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