Pallone Renews Demand for Answers on Family Separation Following Alarming New Reports
Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a follow-up letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today renewing his request for answers on the ongoing family separation crisis following recent reports that raise new questions about the Trump Administration’s efforts to adequately track, care for, and reunite children in its custody.
“I am deeply disturbed by recent reports that are raising new questions about the efforts of [HHS] to adequately track and care for children in its custody, including children who were reportedly separated after the official end of the Administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” Pallone wrote to Secretary Azar. “To date, I remain unsatisfied with the responses HHS has provided to my previous letters on this issue, and I ask that you address the questions included in this letter as well as any others still outstanding.”
A recent GAO report requested by Pallone found that the Administration did not plan for the increase in the number of children separated from their parents due to the “zero tolerance” policy and did not have a consistent way to identify and reunite children and parents separated at the border. Recent news reports also suggest that the Administration has failed to adequately track children it separates when it determines that the child’s safety may be at risk.
Another alarming report from the HHS Office of Inspector General recently found that the so-called “tent city” in Tornillo, TX was not conducting the required Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint background checks on its shelter staff, and has a “dangerously low number of clinicians” on site, which could compromise the safety and wellbeing of the children in its care.
Following these alarming new reports, Pallone is seeking a staff briefing from the Administration as well as answers to a series of questions, including:
- How many separated children are currently in ORR’s care who were separated because of a determination that the child’s safety was at risk?
- Has HHS received custody of any children who were separated from their parents since the end of the “zero tolerance” policy for any reason other than a determination that the child’s safety was at risk?
- How long does HHS anticipate the Tornillo facility to remain open and serving as an emergency influx shelter for children?
- What is HHS doing to ensure that the Tornillo facility is complying with all relevant requirements, including conducting FBI fingerprint background checks on all staff and providing the required number of clinical staff?
Letter available HERE.