NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), and Cory Booker, who also sits on SFRC, today joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 29 other Senate Democrats in announcing introduction of legislation to keep immigrant families together and prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from separating children from their parents at the border. Sen. Menendez’s senior staff were denied entry into an immigrant processing center along the U.S-Mexico border to conduct routine Congressional oversight.
“We are not going to stand by as the Trump Administration continues to find ways to forcibly separate immigrant families from seeking refuge in our country – pulling a child from a mother seeking asylum in our country is wrong,” said Sen. Menendez. “We have a responsibility to ensure children and families are able to apply for asylum, trafficking protection and other specialized forms of relief without the paralyzing fear of being separated and shipped off to different facilities across the country. Only in the Trump era would forcibly tearing children away from their parents be considered an acceptable policy to uphold our values as a nation of immigrants. This is shameful, un-American and must stop.”
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.
Earlier this week, Sen. Menendez sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding the Trump Administration clarify why staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were prevented from touring a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigrant processing facility during a Congressional staff delegation visit to the San Diego-Tijuana border, and urged Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to reverse DHS’s troubling decision to refuse congressional oversight.
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, CBP testified 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 Keep Families Together Act protects the welfare of children, the bill 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.
Joining Sens. Menendez, Booker and Feinstein on the legislation are Sens. 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.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 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.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).