Trump reportedly wants family separation again. This Health Department official hit back.
Federal agencies do not have the capacity to accommodate thousands of migrant children and families, even if the Trump administration decides to reinstate the family separation policy, a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Tuesday.
Jonathan White, commander of the U.S. Public Health Services, was responding to reports that President Donald Trump and other top White House officials suggested bringing back family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border in order to deter immigrants from making the journey north.
In a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, White said it is not possible “to build a system that would prevent the mass traumatization of children.”
“We do not have the capacity to receive that number of children, nor do we have the capacity to serve them, nor is it possible to build a system that would prevent the mass traumatization of children,” he said, adding that he would “never support the use of family separation, the systematic traumatization of children as a tool of immigration policy.”
White was one of the first federal officials to sound the alarm about the traumatizing effects of the family separation policy last spring. He reiterated the chaos that ensued in June as a result of the federal government’s inability to effectively track thousands of migrant children and their families. According to White, “the problem is children were separated and no record was kept of it.”
But not even the most streamlined system of tracking immigrants will prevent children from being traumatized should family separations resume at last year’s pace. White recommended to the committee that Congress take action and pass legislation that would make it illegal to separate a child at the border for reasons other than for the safety of the child or crimes besides unauthorized entry to the United States.
Trump publicly dismissed reports that he is considering a return to the family separation policy Tuesday, insisting that he’s actually the one who stopped the policy that President Obama created. It’s difficult to take his word as truth when coupled with a lie, however. Obama did not have a family separation policy.
With the ongoing Stephen Miller-ification of the White House, the administration reinstating a policy of family separations doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. A recent report from CNN indicates Trump wants to separate families even if they arrive at a legal port of entry and are legal asylum seekers, and senior adviser Stephen Miller pressured the president to oust any administration official deemed not tough enough on immigration.
Reverting back to separating immigrant families at the rate of last spring would be wildly irresponsible, considering there is still pending litigation over reunifications. In early March, a federal judge ruled that the Trump administration is legally responsible for every child separated from their parents at the southern border and placed with relatives or other sponsors after July 1, 2017, not just the children who were in the custody of the federal government as “unaccompanied minors” at that time. This amounts to thousands beyond the 2,800 children the administration has acknowledged as being separated between 2017 and 2018.
Hundreds of families remain separated because they were deemed “ineligible” for reunification, meaning the parents were deported back to their country of origin without their children or they had a minor criminal charge on their record, like a DUI.
At present, U.S. officials still do not know how many families were separated last year.