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Media Roundup: ‘Oversight of Immigration Enforcement and Family Unification Efforts’

author Published by Jeremy Beck

The sure-fire way to learn what happened at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing about Trump’s zero-tolerance policy is to read the testimonies and watch the hearing in full.
If you don’t have 3-plus hours to kill, here are five news reports of the event:
“5 things we learned from Congress’ contentious hearing on family separations” by Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN;

“Five Takeaways from Tuesday’s Family Reunification Hearing,” by Brendan Kirby, LifeZette;

“Senate panel skewers Trump officials over migrant family separations,” by Nick Miroff and Karoun Demirjian, Washington Post;

“Migrant Detention Centers Are ‘Like a Summer Camp,’ Official Says at Hearing,” by Ron Nixon, New York Times; and

“Official says agency warned family separation bad for kids,” by Alan Fram, Associated Press

Here are the key takeaways from those stories, starting with the items least covered:
ICE Defends Itself
The Washington Post was the only story to report:
{Sen} Cornyn also criticized calls by some Democrats to “abolish ICE,” inviting {Assistant Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations, Mattew} Albence to tell the committee what the result would be. “You cannot have strong border security with a void in the interior,” said Albence, who runs the ICE division responsible for interior arrests and deportations. When he complained that the government was focusing on reunification because a judge was forcing the issue, that drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats.

Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy of charging illegal border crossers with crimes continues for those traveling without children.
As the end of the video clip above indicates, catch-and-release has been reinstated for adults traveling with children, but Lifezette was the only outlet to report:Carla Provost, acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, said authorities continue to refer illegal immigrants traveling alone for criminal prosecution.
Detaining a family unit together is more effective and less costly than release.
LifeZette’s story was the only one to report:
Albence testified that short-term detention of illegal immigrants costs about $1,600 per deportation. By contrast, he added, the government spent $183 million on the ADT program in fiscal year 2017 but completed only 2,430 deportations.
“That’s over $75,000 per removal … So, if you have a process that, at the end of it, the judge’s {deportation} order means nothing because the individual does not appear after he’s received that order or continues to file frivolous appeals, or we’re unable to locate him, we haven’t accomplished anything except to spend a lot of taxpayer money,” he said.

Barring Congressional action, enforcement agencies have no way to both keep families together and enforce the law.
The Associated Press story included this part of the hearing:
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, defended the officials and said Congress was also to blame for the administration’s problems with handling the separated families. He said congressional critics “offer no plausible or workable solution at all.”
Lifezette offered more details:
If the government cannot detain the children {under the Flores settlement}, it must release the whole family. “As a result, we have no choice but to release these individuals out into the community,” {Albence} said. Those cases typically take years to move through backlogged courts, and the no-show rate is high, Albence testified.
None of the officials would call Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy a success.
The Washington Post reported:
…lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who dared the five Trump officials to tell the panel that the administration’s “zero tolerance” border crackdown was a success. Not one raised a hand.
The New York Times reported this caveat:
But the officials maintained that past administrations had also cracked down on illegal immigration, similarly resulting in family separations. Obama administration officials have denied that their policies were intended to remove children from their parents.
Some deported parents signed off on leaving their children in the U.S.
The AP reported:The officials said they keep records of children in their custody and can document decisions by hundreds of detained parents to willingly leave the U.S. without their children, an assertion that has drawn skepticism from lawmakers. Some migrants separated from their children have said they did not understand what they were signing.{Commander Jonathan D.} White called a family’s decision to leave children behind “a desperate last act of a parent” that he said is “unfathomable until you’ve walked in those parents’ shoes.”
Lifezette’s story included White’s quotes and some from DHS’ Albence:
The DHS official said many illegal immigrants have spent $5,000 to $10,000 — their life savings — to get their children to the United States.
“Many of these individuals are repeat offenders. They’ve been deported previously,” he said. “They’ve got criminal histories here in the United States, meaning they’ve lived in the country illegally … It’s easier for them to leave their child here, to go back to their home country and try to re-enter this country illegally again as a single adult, as opposed to with a child.”
Agencies didn’t get advance notice about the “zero tolerance” policy.
The New York Times reported:
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, the officials said they were given few instructions and had no plans for reuniting the families when the policy was announced on April 6.
The Washington Post:
None of the other officials who testified Tuesday said they were briefed in advance that the White House was moving forward with its dramatic crackdown until it was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early April.
Senators Dick Durbin and Kamala Harris called for Sec. Nielsen’s resignation.
The Washington Post:
Tuesday’s hearing also brought renewed calls from Democrats for the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The AP:
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen should resign and that someone “has to accept responsibility” for policies that show “the extremes this administration will go to.”
The White House was warned about separating families; claimed that was not the plan.
Although agencies were not given advance notice of the “zero tolerance” policy, the White House was forewarned about separating families. The Washington Post reported:White, who was a top official in the HHS office that cares for migrant children weeks before the Trump administration announced “zero tolerance,” told senators, too, that he had warned his superiors that separating children from their parents carried a “significant risk of harm” and could inflict “psychological injury.” But he said he was assured that the government was not planning to implement the practice.
The Associated Press reported:
Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., what response HHS officials got from administration policymakers, White said, “The answer was there was no policy which would result in separation of children from family units.” White is a career official at HHS who has served in three administrations.
CNN also quoted White:
“During the deliberative process over the previous year, we raised a number of concerns in the (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child as well as about whether that would be operationally supportable with the bed capacity that we had,” White said.
1,800 of 2,500 children have been reunited with their adults.
Washington Post:
The administration has reunited more than 1,800 children and is now working the more complex cases of parents with criminal records, as well as more than 450 who were deported without their sons and daughters.
Associated Press:
Trump dropped the policy more than a month ago under fire from Democrats and Republicans alike. But of more than 2,500 children who were initially separated from parents and guardians, hundreds remain in federal custody including more than 400 whose parents left the U.S. without them.
New York Times:
Nearly one-fifth of the parents have been deported or otherwise left the United States since they were separated from their children, administration lawyers said. As a result, an estimated 429 children remain in government custody, the officials said.
559 kids from separated families remain in custody. That number includes children whose parents were deported, children whose parents were released into the interior and children who were deemed ineligible for family reunification due to other factors, he said.
The parents of more than 500 kids from separated families may have been deported. White said 429 kids who remain in custody — and 81 kids who’ve been released to other sponsors — have parents who are no longer in the United States.
11,316 children are currently in HHS custody, the majority of whom arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors.
The Flores settlement created situation the UAC program was not designed to handle.
New York Times:
Under the {zero tolerance} policy, the government has threatened to prosecute all adults who illegally enter the United States and, until recently, sought to detain the vast majority of those migrants until their cases were heard in court. But that resulted in parents being separated from their children, who are prohibited by a 1997 court agreement from being detained for more than 20 days.
At a number of points in the hearing, lawmakers asked officials to pinpoint what went wrong leading up to the family separations. Most officials declined to answer, deferring the question to others.
The only answer to the question came from White…
The Associated Press:
When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked the witnesses “what went wrong” when the government began having trouble matching detained children with parents or guardians, the most specific answer came from the public health service’s White.
The Washington Post:
“What went wrong is the children separated from their parents were referred as unaccompanied alien children when in fact they were accompanied,” {White} said, describing some of the communication failures that forced members of his team to sort by hand through more than 12,000 files of migrant children in government custody to determine which ones had arrived with a parent.
“Summer camp”
All five stories found Albence’s description of the detention facilities newsworthy.
Albence testified that children at the facilities get three meals a day and access to medical, dental and mental health services. Many never had seen a dentist before coming into U.S. custody, he said.
“The best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp. These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water,” he said. “They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities, both structured as well as unstructured. There’s basketball courts. There’s exercise classes. There’s soccer fields that we’ve put in there.”
The Washington Post:
Albence deflected senators’ questions about care for migrant families in federal custody, including the “family residential centers” he compared to summer camp. That comment drew stunned expressions in the room.
The New York Times:
That prompted Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, to ask if Mr. Albence would send his children to one of the centers.
He did not directly answer, but said he was “very comfortable” with immigrants’ treatment.
The AP:
“I think we’re missing the point,” answered Albence. “These individuals are there because they have broken a law.”
Jennifer HIggins, associate director of the refugee, asylum and international operations directorate for US Citizenship and Immigration Services, said {Hirono’s} was a tough question to answer.
“It’s difficult to put myself in the position of an individual who takes a dangerous journey, in which, their child could be harmed,” she said.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

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