Menendez, Booker, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Halt Separation of Immigrant Families

Menendez, Booker, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Halt Separation of Immigrant Families

Keep Families Together Act would prevent DHS from separating children from their parents at the border


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the leader in Congress on immigrant rights and immigration policy, and Cory Booker today joined a group of 40 other Democratic senators in introducing legislation to prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from taking children from their parents at the border. Thousands of children have been victims of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

“This policy of pulling a child from their parents seeking asylum in our country is wrong, inhumane and must end immediately,” said Sen. Menendez.  “We have a responsibility to ensure children and families are able to apply for asylum, trafficking protection and other specialized forms of relief without the paralyzing fear of being separated and shipped off to different facilities across the country. Only in the Trump era would forcibly tearing children away from their parents be considered an acceptable policy to uphold our values as a nation of immigrants.”

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 would only allow immigrant children to be separated from their parents 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.

On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum. This policy, which has never before been pursued, has resulted in parents being separated from their children.

Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may violate the United States’ obligations under international law, including the U.N. convention on refugees and its Protocol.

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 Sens. Menendez and Booker, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.).

Sens. Menendez and Booker cosponsored this bill last Congress.

Sen. Menendez last year led a Rally to Reunite Families outside the Elizabeth Detention Center with more than 100 multidenominational faith leaders, supporters and advocates from across New Jersey to demand the Trump Administration do everything possible to reunite children with the parents.

Sen. Menendez was a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight” that passed bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform by an overwhelming, veto-proof majority in the U.S. Senate, only to be blocked by Republican leaders from ever coming to a vote in the House. Sen. Menendez was also a member of the “Gang of Six” that crafted a bipartisan DACA bill to provide DREAMers with a pathway to citizenship that garnered 54 votes in the Senate, after the President refused to support it.