Tuesday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the John Kelly, Acting Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, and Joanne Chiedi, Acting Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, demanding they investigate reports of child migrants being left in vans overnight while awaiting reunification with their families.
Dear Acting Inspectors General Kelly and Chiedi:
Late last night, NBC News issued a report describing haphazard and inadequately planned reunifications of children separated from their parents at the border pursuant to the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy. Dozens of children were held in vans for up to 39 hours because of the lack of coordination and preparation between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), particularly U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reunify separated families. I am writing to request you investigate this incident.
According to the NBC News report, at 2:30 p.m. on July 15, 2018, 37 migrant children between the ages of 5 and 12-years old arrived at ICE’s adults-only Port Isabel Detention Center to be reunified with parents they were separated from earlier in the summer. Despite two notifications from HHS that children would be arriving, ICE seemingly made no advance accommodations or preparations. ICE employees departed at the end of their shift even though children continued to wait in vans in the parking lot. The children were granted entry into the facility twice but were brought back to the vans both times as ICE was not prepared to receive the children. By 10:30 p.m., none of the children had been processed for reunification.
ICE stated that if the children departed from Port Isabel and returned to Harlingen, their reunification would be further delayed. With no good options for the children, additional vans, blankets and food were brought in from the HHS facility in Harlingen, to give the children room to sleep overnight in the parking lot of the detention center. It was not until eleven hours later, at 1:30 a.m. on July 16, that the first child was reunified, and it was not until 5:50 a.m. on Tuesday, July 18, that all 37 children were reunified with their parents. Ultimately, the majority of the 37 children spent 23 hours in the vehicles.
It is extremely concerning that nearly a year after the President’s failed zero-tolerance policy resulted in at least 5,000 family separations, stories such as this continue to emerge. With that in mind, I am writing to request you investigate:
- the Departments’ treatment of children during family reunification efforts in the summer of 2018, including the July 15, 2018 incident; and
- whether appropriate measures have been implemented to prevent similar incidents from happening as DHS, HHS, or their contractors transporting children in their custody.
Congressman Bennie Thompson Press Release