Durbin: No Law Required Trump's Child Separation Policy, And We Don't Need Any New Laws To Reunite Families

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today spoke on the Senate floor about the Trump Administration’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents who arrive at the Southern border of the United States seeking protection from horrific violence in the Northern Triangle region of Central America. Durbin discussed his recent visit to a facility in Chicago that houses children who have been separated from their parents due to the President’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy that criminalizes asylum-seekers and seeks to indefinitely detain their children.  

There is no requirement in law to prosecute every border case criminally, none. These cases can be handled under civil law, and families can be kept together under the law,” said Durbin. “But this Administration chose to call every person at the border a criminal, even those who were fleeing violence and death threats and seeking a chance at asylum, and as soon as they alleged that that adult at the border was a criminal, then they could rationalize separating the children from these possible criminals. 

As far as we know, more than 2,500 children have been taken away from their parents by the U.S. government as a result of this ‘zero-tolerance policy.’  They have been transferred to facilities and places far away, sometimes thousands of miles away, like Chicago. The Trump Administration needs to make it an immediate priority to ensure that children separated from parents are brought back together again quickly. Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security said that the federal government, quote, ‘knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.’ I questioned that, but I accepted it, and if it’s true, there is no excuse for delay. 

No law required the Administration to separate these children from their families, and we don’t need any new law passed in this chamber to reunite them. We just need this Administration to act, and Congress to exert its oversight to verify that the Administration is doing what it promised.” 

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

The President’s June 20 Executive Order attempts to overturn the Flores Settlement, a 1997 court order that set minimum standards for the detention, housing, and release of non-citizen children who are detained by the U.S. government, and requires the government to pursue a general policy of releasing children. Repealing the Flores Settlement was a key component of President Trump’s own immigration legislation, which was rejected by the Senate 39-60 in February.  

Known as the Northern Triangle, the countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have among the highest homicide rates in the world, and girls face a constant threat of sexual violence, with little protection from local authorities. This is why children and their families are taking extraordinary risks to flee to the U.S. border. More than 90 percent of unaccompanied children referred to HHS are from the three nations in the Northern Triangle.

In March, Durbin and 23 of his Senate colleagues pressed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Inspector General to investigate allegations that DHS is separating the children of asylum-seekers from their parents. This request followed reports of the case of a seven-year-old girl and her mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who were separated for more than four months after they presented themselves at the U.S. border and sought protection in accordance with the law.