Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter on July 6th, to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar demanding additional information about the agency’s plan to reunite children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) custody who were forcibly separated from their parents by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
On June 26, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California granted a preliminary injunction, ordering the federal government to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents by July 10 and all other children who have been separated from their parents by July 26.
“You have reportedly asked for volunteers to help with the family reunification effort. I am concerned that this may indicate an unacceptably haphazard approach to staffing and organizing the reunification effort. HHS has approximately 80,000 employees and as Secretary you have broad discretion to allocate resources to meet the Department’s objectives.”
Congresswoman Diana DeGette
In the letter, DeGette states that the administration’s lack of coordination and common decency throughout its entire family separation campaign, coupled with a current, lackluster effort to achieve these court-ordered family reunifications, creates serious doubts that HHS will be able to appropriately manage this undertaking. Of particular concern to DeGette is the Secretary’s reported request for assistance from those within the agency:
“You have reportedly asked for volunteers to help with the family reunification effort. I am concerned that this may indicate an unacceptably haphazard approach to staffing and organizing the reunification effort,” DeGette writes. “HHS has approximately 80,000 employees and as Secretary, you have broad discretion to allocate resources to meet the Department’s objectives.”
In addition, DeGette criticizes the Secretary for calling the reunification timeframe “extreme,” demonstrating a startling lack of understanding about the physical, emotional, and psychological harm being separated from a parent can cause a child. She also asks whether HHS will make an effort to reunite children in its custody with their parents even if the family was not separated by U.S. immigration authorities, noting that while it is not mandated by the injunction, the consequences of family separation are just as real for those in this group.
Previously, on June 28, DeGette joined 47 of her colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary Azar, Attorney General Sessions, and DHS Secretary Nielsen, asking basic questions about their plan to comply with the June 26 injunction, but so far they have not received a response.