House Poised to Subpoena Trump Cabinet Over Migrant Kids Policy

(Bloomberg) -- The Democratic-led House Oversight Committee voted to authorize subpoenas requiring President Donald Trump’s administration to turn over records on migrant children and parents who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The 25-11 vote Tuesday allows subpoenas to be sent to the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services. If issued, they would be the first known subpoenas issued by House Democrats in their burgeoning investigations of the Trump administration.

The Oversight committee wants to know the ages and countries of origin of the separated children, where they are being held, whether any have been reunited with their parents, and other details about the children’s current conditions.

“It is our job to step in and protect these children,” said Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. “Further delay is not an option.”

Two Republicans joined Democrats in voting to allow subpoenas: Justin Amash of Michigan and Chip Roy of Texas.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday on the child separations, which led to an uproar last year as news media showed images of children crying as they were separated from their parents and placed in detention.

A court order in June 2018 required HHS to reunite more than 2,700 children with their parents. A January report from the HHS inspector general’s office said the Trump administration separated “thousands” more children starting in 2017 before then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for families seeking asylum at the border in April 2018.

House Democrats plan to investigate the roll-out and implementation of that “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute anyone caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The policy resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents and placed in shelters or foster care.

The administration has also taken steep criticism for its apparent lack of record keeping that would help reunite the children, the kind of information the Oversight Committee is seeking.

“All we want to know is where the children are, where their families are, and unite them,” said Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat.

Cummings said Democrats had repeatedly sought the information from the Trump administration but got no response.

The committee’s top Republican, Jim Jordan of Ohio, said Democrats were making a “rash decision” and added,“Maybe you just wanted to be the first to issue a subpoena against this administration.”

HHS said in a statement that it has provided almost 800 pages of documents to the committee and has offered the panel’s staff a review of other information at the department.

At the House Judiciary hearing, committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, asked U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost whether her agency could find the names of children separated from their parents before Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy.

“The information is within the system; it was not easily searchable,” but has been updated, Provost said. “I would not say we were not prepared.”

Commander Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service told the committee that he had raised concerns about child separations to Scott Lloyd, now a senior adviser at the HHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives but who had led HHS’s department responsible for reuniting separated families, the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington asked Lloyd if he had raised such concerns to others in the administration. “I did not,” Lloyd said.

After Florida Democrat Ted Deutch said HHS is aware of cases of sexual abuse suffered by some separated children being held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, GOP Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida asked White whether children were more at risk of sexual abuse in transit or in HHS custody.

“Obviously in transit, but that’s not the point,” White said. “We don’t set ourselves to the standard of doing better” than smugglers, he added.

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