WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) joined 31 of their colleagues, led by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in introducing legislation to keep immigrant families together by preventing the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border.
The Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center and the Young Center for Immigrant Rights.
“I cannot describe the anger and shame I feel as I read stories about government agents ripping crying children out of their mother’s arms. America shouldn’t behave like a villain,” said Murphy. “President Trump could end this disgusting practice with a phone call if he wanted, but he won’t. Congress must pass the Keep Families Together Act for these innocent kids, and to show the world – and ourselves – who we really are.”
In addition to Murphy, Blumenthal and Feinstein, the bill is cosponsored by 31 senators, including U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum. This policy, which has never before been pursued, has resulted in parents being separated from their children.
Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may also violate the United States’ obligations under international law, including the U.N. convention on refugees and its Protocol.
At a May 24, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Customs and Border Protection informed Feinstein that 658 children were taken from 638 parents during a 14-day period in May, an average of 47 children being taken from their parents each day.
To ensure the bill protects the welfare of children, it allows children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents. To provide an additional layer of protection, the bill provides for an immediate review by a superior upon the recommendation to separate, and only after consultation with a child welfare expert.
Declarations from court filings from immigrant parents separated from their children follow:
Statement by Mirian, part of a class-action lawsuit:
“My name is Mirian. I am a citizen and national of Honduras and my birth date is December 17, 1988. U.S. border officials separated me from my 18-month-old son when we arrived at the border on February 20, 2018. I brought my son to the United States so we could seek protection from government violence in Honduras.
“I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help. I have not seen my baby for more than a month. I’m so excited to be reunited with him.
“The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat. I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.
“While at the Port Isabel Detention Center I was wondering what had happened with my son. I was very worried about him and did not know where he was.”
Statement by Mrs. C, part of a class-action lawsuit:
“I am a citizen of Brazil and am seeking asylum in the United States. When I came to the United States, I passed my initial asylum interview (“credible fear interview”), and am now in immigration proceedings before an immigration judge to seek asylum.
“Although I was seeking asylum, I was convicted of the misdemeanor of entering the country illegally. When a border guard approached me a few feet after I entered the country, I explained I was seeking asylum. I was still prosecuted. I spent 25 days in jail for the misdemeanor.
“My biological son, J., is 14 and came with me from Brazil. He is also seeking asylum. When I was sent to jail for my conviction, my son was taken from me and sent to a facility in Chicago.
“I have now been out of jail and have been in immigration detention since September 22, 2017. I am desperate to be reunited with my son.
“I worry about J. constantly and don’t know when I will see him. We have talked on the phone only a five or six times since he was taken away from me.
“J. is having a very hard time detained all by himself without me. He is only a 14-year -old boy in a strange country and needs his parent.”
Statement by J.I.L, part of a class-action lawsuit:
“I am a citizen of El Salvador and am seeking asylum in the United States. I arrived at the Texas/Mexico border with my two biological sons on March 13, 2018, seeking protection from violence in El Salvador. My son J.S.P.L. was born on August 3, 2007 and is ten years old. My son D.A.P.L. was born on March 30, 2014 and is four years old.
“My sons and I were apprehended with three other women near Roma, Texas by border officials on the morning of March 13th, 2018. The officers put us in the back of their vehicle and drove us to the border station. Everyone referred to the station as an ‘icebox’ or ‘hielera.’
“That day, March 13, a woman came to pick up my kids. I was given only five minutes to say goodbye before J.S.P.L. and D.A.P.L. were torn from me. My babies started crying when they found out we were going to be separated. It breaks my heart to remember my youngest wail, ‘Why do I have to leave? Mami, I want to stay with you!’
“My youngest cried and screamed in protest because he did not want to leave my side. My oldest son was also confused and did not understand what was happening. In tears myself, I asked my boys to be brave, and I promised we would be together again soon. I begged the woman who took my children to keep them together so they could at least have each other. She promised she would, and she left with my boys. I was transferred to the Laredo Detention Center. I have been in this detention center since then and am heartbroken.
“I do not know where my sons are, and I am very worried about them. I called the Office of Refugee Resettlement to learn about my children, but the office only told me that the boys are in a shelter in San Antonio.
“The separation from my sons has been incredibly hard, because I have never been away from them before. I do not want my children to think that I abandoned them. J.S.P.L. and D.A.P.L. are so attached to me. D.A.P.L. used to sleep in bed with me every night while J.S.P.L. slept in his own bed in the same room.
“Back in El Salvador, my kids became nervous every time I was out of their sight. They would calm down as soon as they saw me, and I assured them that I would not leave them. It hurts me to think how anxious and distressed they must be without me.”