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E&C Leaders Demand Answers From Azar on Role in Creating Family Separation Policy

Sep 17, 2020
Press Release
New Press Reports Call into Question Azar’s Prior Congressional Testimony on Family Separation Policy

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar following up on recent press reports that call into question Azar’s prior congressional testimony on the Trump Administration’s family separation policy.

The reports indicate that Secretary Azar and other Cabinet officials were invited to a White House meeting in early May 2018 before the family separation policy became official to discuss the pending decision to separate migrant families upon entry into the United States. According to the report, “[n]o one in the meeting made the case that separating families would be inhumane or immoral.”

If this new reporting is accurate, it indicates that at best, you should have known about the implications of the proposed family separation policy but did not object to it – and at worst, you were complicit in the decision to separate thousands of vulnerable children from their families,” Pallone, Eshoo and DeGette wrote.

At a March 2019 Health Subcommittee hearing, Secretary Azar testified that he was not aware of the potential for family separations until “the days and weeks following the announcement on May 7th [2018]” of the implementation of the Zero Tolerance policy, which led to family separations.

Secretary Azar also stated at the March 2019 hearing, “[i]f I had been alerted to it, I could have raised objections and concerns, absolutely. And I wish we had had more knowledge flow, and I wish more people had been engaged in these issues, absolutely. Of course.” After the reported White House meeting, the Trump Administration separated thousands of migrant families, and transferred at least 4,000 children, without their parents, to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within HHS.

In the letter, the three Committee leaders ask Azar if he was invited to the May 2018 meeting and if he attended it. According to the press reports, attendees at the meeting were asked “by a show-of-hands vote” whether to recommend implementing family separations.  If Azar attended the meeting, the three Committee leaders want to know if Azar voted or provided any input.

The Democrats’ new letter continues the Committee’s two-year investigation into the Trump Administration’s inhumane family separation policy. Despite multiple letters and repeated requests, Secretary Azar has failed to provide all requested documents that would help shed light on this shameful chapter in American history.

[T]he documents we have received thus far clearly demonstrate that career officials within HHS were raising moral objections and logistical concerns about the reported family separation policy before the extent of the policy was known to the public, yet HHS leadership did not act on these concerns nor stop the indiscriminate separation of families that resulted from the implementation of the Administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy,” the Committee leaders wrote. “Moreover, reports continue to emerge about the involvement of top Trump Administration officials in the creation of this policy, renewing the importance of our oversight.

As part of their ongoing inquiry, the Committee leaders requested written answers to a series of questions by October 1, 2020, on Secretary Azar’s involvement in the creation, approval, and implementation of the Trump Administration’s cruel family separation policy.

To read the full letter, click HERE.