A group of 79 House Democrats and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly last week urging him to no implement a strategy that would split up moms and children arriving at the border together.
Kelly confirmed last week what Reuters reporter Julia Ainsley had reported in early March: that the Department of Homeland Security was considering a policy whereby mothers would be detained, and children would be placed in the “in the least restrictive setting until they can be taken into the care of a U.S. relative or state-sponsored guardian.”
The current standard practice for such family units is usually described as “catch and release,” where the family is released into the United States with a future court date.
The group of Democrats, which appears to be led on this issue by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), said the policy raises “serious ethical and humanitarian questions.”
From the letter, which is dated March 8:
“The utilization of unsound policy that calls for the separation of parents and children when they are detained as a deterrent to illegal immigrant unwittingly conveys the department’s clear lack of understanding about the child welfare system. The entire purpose of the child welfare system, specifically the use of foster care, is to protect children from abuse and neglect – not as a tool for punishing or criminalizing parents. Moreover, history plainly demonstrates that DHS is ill-equipped to care for children, let alone the special needs of vulnerable immigrant children.”
As the letter states, Kelly suggested in a CNN interview last week that the children would be placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which means these children will become part of the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program. Children in UAC are placed in the care of a provider within the HHS network around the country, and those providers assist in finding a more stable placement with relatives while the fate of the child’s immigration status is set for court.
So DHS will likely not have custody of children for very long; the mothers, however, will almost certainly face detention in one of the privately-operated facilities contracted with by DHS.
As for the UAC program, the number of participants has surged again after dropping in 2015. It is possible that while Kelly views the new family unit policy as a deterrent, UAC numbers could go through the roof. The letter from Democrats does not refer to UAC by name, but voices concern that the new policy could overwhelm “an already overburdened, underfunded and struggling system.”
Click here to read the letter.