Washington – With bipartisan support, a key House panel adopted two measures sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro aimed at pressing the Trump administration to improve its reunification of immigrant families separated at the U.S. border and boost funding for a mental health program that would help children recover from the separations.
In a voice vote, a House Appropriations Committee panel late Wednesday approved DeLauro’s two amendments in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019.
One amendment directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS, to submit a plan by Aug. 1 to Congress for locating all of the children who were forcibly taken from their parents at the border and reunifying them with their families. Immigrant children are placed in the custody of HHS when they are removed from their parents.
The amendment would fine Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s office $100,000 a day for every day HHS exceeded the Aug. 1 deadline to submit the plan.
“Their inaction has enormous consequences on these kids’ lives, so it is more than fair that they share some of that burden,” DeLauro, D-3rd District, said.
Congress isn’t likely to give final approval of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill before DeLauro’s Aug. 1 deadline. But approval of her amendment by Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee shows bipartisan displeasure at how the Trump administration is handling the reunifications.
DeLauro’s second amendment would increase funding for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network by $10 million—to nearly $64 million—to provide behavioral health services and counseling to the separated children.
“I am proud that today’s amendments holding the Trump administration accountable for reuniting families and providing mental health services for kids passed on a bipartisan basis,” DeLauro said in a statement. “HHS needs to tell Congress what they are doing to bring children and families together.”
On June 27, a federal judge in California issued an injunction ordering the Trump administration to reunite all children who are younger than five within 14 days of the order and the older children within 30 days.
The Trump administration had trouble meeting the first deadline this week. It said Thursday that it has reunited fewer than half of the 100 or so infants and young children covered by the order. The delay in reuniting the others was attributed to a number of reasons, including difficulties finding some parents and verifying their relationship with the detained children, as well as the deportation of some of the parents.
Two immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the border and sent to an HHS-contracted facility in Groton have sued the Trump administration to be reunited with their parents immediately. A hearing on the case, which was argued Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, was continued to next week.
Despite criticisms of the process of reunification, Azar said this week that his department was performing “one of the great acts of American generosity and charity” in its care of immigrant children.