Menendez, Booker Cosponsor Bill to Reunify and Protect Immigrant Families

Menendez, Booker Cosponsor Bill to Reunify and Protect Immigrant Families

Government inaction has resulted in a failure of young children being reunited with their parents. Nearly 2,600 children remain separated from their families

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a leading advocate for immigrant rights in the Senate, and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) cosponsored the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act, a bill to immediately reunify all families and establish a permanent system of coordination between agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect detained immigrants with children. Government inaction has resulted in a failure of young migrant children being reunified with their parents, resulting in nearly 2,600 children still separated from their families who remain at risk of short and long-term health impacts as a result of the trauma they’ve experienced.

“The administration must stop dragging their feet on finding the parents of the children they forcefully separated, and we must insist the Trump administration reunites every child taken from his or her parent with a verifiable and transparent process,” said Sen. Menendez. “That’s why we’re introducing the REUNITE Act to ensure the reunification of families and ensure that families are not indefinitely detained. We must insist that children are seen as children and not as political pawns to advance Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant crusade.”

"The Trump administration created this problem," said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance national director. "They need to resolve it immediately at no cost to the families. The REUNITE Act will help return nearly 3,000 migrant children to their parents after a period of prolonged, awful detention."

"We know how difficult it is for families separated by our immigration detention system to find one another,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC). “We have been locating disappeared loved ones since 2010, but there is a solution to prevent family separation. The REUNITE Act will ensure parents and children are reunited and prevent future separations by establishing a community-based alternative to detention that is humane and does not include incarceration."

The REUNITE Act:

  • Requires the DHS and HHS Secretaries to publish guidance describing how they will reunify families. This guidance must include how to ensure sustained, no-cost contact between parents and children, access to children by legal counsel and other advocates, and unannounced inspections by child welfare organizations.
  • Requires immediate reunification of children who remain separated from a parent and legal guardian.
  • Creates presumption of release on recognizance, parole, or bond for parents of separated children.
  • Restores the Family Case Management Program.
  • Creates presumption that parents will not be deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is over or the child turns 18.
  • Prohibits DHS from using information, including DNA information, obtained pursuant to this Act for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Creates privacy protections around the use of DNA testing to establish familial relationships.
  • Requires the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, and the HHS Secretary to establish the Office for Locating and Reuniting Children with Parents, an interagency office, to expedite and facilitate the reunification of children and parents separated after enter the U.S.
  • Redirects $50 million in appropriations from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for the enforcement of this Act.

The REUNITE Act has received support from the following organizations: National Immigrant Justice Center, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First, UnidosUS, Immigration Hub, Church World Service, Mainstreet Alliance, MomsRising, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Southern Border Communities Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, FIRM, Center for Community Change, National Immigration Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Center for Victims of Torture, and First Focus Campaign for Children, Association for Child Psychoanalysis, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Indivisible, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), American Academy of Pediatrics, and Earthjustice. 

Joining Senator Menendez and Booker on this piece of legislation are Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Full text of the bill is available here

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