Official: Agency warned about family separations


Associated Press

WASHINGTON

A Department of Health and Human Services official told senators Tuesday that his agency had warned the Trump administration that separating families would be dangerous for children. But some of the government’s top immigration officials used a Senate hearing to largely defend how the policy has been implemented, with one comparing family detention centers to “a summer camp.”

One official told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while the Trump administration was developing its immigration policies, Health and Human Services officials said they were worried “about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child.” Commander Jonathan D. White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a branch of HHS, said they also were uncertain their department had enough resources to handle large numbers of detained immigrants.

“There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child,” White said.

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.

White’s remarks came as the Judiciary committee questioned officials about what has become an election-year liability for the Republicans and the White House – President Donald Trump’s separation of migrant children from detained families. 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.

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