Cantwell, Senate Democrats Introduce Legislation to Prevent Separation of Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and 40 other Democratic senators to introduce 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 allows immigrant 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.

“Separating children from their parents is inhumane and contrary to our American values,” Senator Cantwell said. “Congress must act to protect immigrant children and prevent this cruel and senseless policy from being implemented again.”

On May 7, 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would prosecute all adults who arrive at the border without documentation for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum.  This policy, which had never before been pursued, resulted in parents being separated from their children.  Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may also violate U.S. obligations under international law, including the U.N. Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Litigation challenging the policy revealed that 2,737 children were separated from their parents and detained in the custody of Health and Human Services as of June 26, 2018.

But a report by the Health and Human Services inspector general (IG) released earlier this month concludes that thousands more children may have been separated from their children prior to June 26.  Given that the Trump administration never implemented a system to track children separated from their parents, contrary to public statements, it was not possible for the IG to give a precise number.  Further, the IG discovered that hundreds of children were separated from their parents after the court issued its order barring separations.   

In addition to Cantwell and Feinstein, the bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

The full text of the bill is available HERE.