Top Trump administration officials were asked in a Senate hearing on Tuesday to raise their hands if they thought that the “zero tolerance” immigration and family separation policies were good ideas.
Not a single one raised their hand.
Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) “who here thinks zero-tolerance has been a success,” five witnesses at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on immigration enforcement and family reunification efforts sat on their hands.
The witnesses included the acting chief of U.S. Border Patrol, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s deportation unit, the director of the Department of Justice’s office for immigration review, and the coordinating official of Department of Health and Human Services’ family reunification efforts. They also declined to raise their hands when asked “who thinks that the family separation policy has been a success.”
Blumenthal’s headcount was one shocking moment of many in the committee’s hearings on the administration’s enactment of a largely disastrous policy of separating children from immigrant parents detained at America’s southern border, as well as the bungled court-mandated attempts to reunite those families.
Commander Jonathan White, the U.S. Public Health Service’s coordinating official for family reunifications, told the committee that he and other officials raised “a number of concerns” about the then-proposed policy’s negative affect on the mental health of children separated from their parents, to no avail.
“We raised a number of concerns in the program about any policy that would result in family separation, due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child,” White said.
“You told the administration that kids would suffer as a result, that pain would be inflicted, correct?” Blumenthal asked.
“Separation of children from their parents...would show significant result of trauma to children,” White responded. “There is no question that separation of children from parents [could lead to] significant potential for traumatic injury to the child.”
White, the most forthcoming of the officials questioned in the hearing, even said that it was the understanding of those briefed on the potential policy that “that family separation was not the policy” of the administration, in part because “we raised concerns about the effect on children as well is the effect on the program.”
Nearly 3,000 children, including infants and toddlers, were separated from their parents and families before the Trump administration was ordered by a U.S. district court to cease family separations. The policy was enacted—despite later protestations to the contrary—in part to discourage illegal immigration.
“I am considering [family separation] in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network ... I am considering exactly that,” then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said in March 2017. “I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America to getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up through Mexico into the United States.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who implemented the policy, said in May that “if you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”