House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has requested numerous documents and communications related to the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy that led to the separation last year of migrant families who crossed the southern border illegally.
"There remain many unanswered questions about the development and execution of the Trump Administration's family separation or 'zero-tolerance' policy," the New York Democrat wrote in a letter released Monday, one of his early oversight acts as the head of the committee.
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The Judiciary Committee, now led by Nadler, is demanding information -- including the existence of "any family separation pilot program," the health and safety of children in government custody and a reunification strategy for families -- from the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Justice by February 8.
However, given the partial government shutdown, Nadler said, the committee will work with the departments to find a "workable deadline as the shutdown processes."
Under the controversial "zero-tolerance" policy, more than 2,000 children were separated from their undocumented parents at the border last spring and summer. Greater numbers of families began to be separated after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against all migrants who crossed the border unlawfully.
After a widespread backlash, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 reversing course on the family separations. Since then, 81 children have been separated from family members after being apprehended at the southern border, according to DHS data.
The letter asks the DHS to produce 14 items ranging from an unredacted copy of a DHS memo about the policy signed by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to the number of separated or unaccompanied children held longer than 72 hours since June. Similar but different requests were sent to the Justice and HHS departments.
"The latest tragic deaths in custody of young children underscore the need for oversight of the Administration's policies," the letter says.
In December, two Guatemalan children died after being detained by US Border Patrol, which is overseen by DHS.
On December 8, Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, died in a hospital two days after she was taken to a Border Patrol station. And on Christmas Eve, an 8-year-old boy, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, died after he was taken to a hospital, released, then returned to the hospital.
These were the first child deaths in Border Patrol custody in more than a decade.
The deaths prompted changes in internal DHS policy, such as instituting secondary medical checks on all children in the care and custody of Customs and Border Protection, and additional medical support from the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard Medical Corps.
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