June 26, 2018

Wyden Presses HHS Secretary to Protect and Reunify Children Separated from Their Parents at the Border

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, today pressed Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar over the urgent need to protect and reunify children and families separated at the border because of the Trump administration’s inhumane “zero-tolerance” policy.

At a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden pressed Azar to answer two basic questions about asylum-seekers: how many children HHS has reunited with parents or relatives, as well as how many parents have been told where their children are.

Azar told Wyden that parents had access to HHS resources to find their children, but many parents have reported problems getting through the hotline and getting information about the location of their children. In a letter response from HHS to Wyden received during today’s hearing, Azar again cited the department’s hotline and an email address as the department’s process for how parents should find information about their children.

“An administration that has traumatized thousands of child refugees, dehumanized these kids and their parents and tried to normalize this behavior through deception has a lot to answer for,” said Wyden, who on June 16 met with several asylum seekers detained in federal prison in Sheridan, Ore. who had been separated from their children. “The American people are owed an answer about what’s going to be done to protect and reunify the thousands of children the Trump administration separated from their mothers and fathers.”

“Unnecessarily ripping children away from their families and putting them in institutions is harmful. It’s harmful to their health. It’s scarring to their emotional well-being. It’s detrimental to their growth. That is a fact, and your department knows it. You should know it."

Last week, Wyden led Finance Committee senators in demanding to know how Azar is ensuring the safety of children separated from their parents under Trump’s zero-tolerance policy and how the administration plans to reunify children and families.

Earlier this month, Wyden led 39 of his colleagues in calling for Trump to reverse his inhumane policy of separating children from families who cross the U.S. southern border seeking asylum in the United States. In the letter, Wyden and the senators cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in stressing the short- and long-term damage to these children from being unnecessarily separated from their families and from unnecessary institutionalization.

Video of Wyden's opening statement is here. And video of Wyden questioning Azar is here.

Read HHS’s response here.