The Denver Post

Agency warned separation bad for kids

- By Alan Fram

WASHINGTON» A Department of Health and Human Services official told senators Tuesday that his agency warned the Trump administra­tion that separating families would be dangerous for children. But some of the government’s top immigratio­n officials used a Senate hearing to largely defend how the policy has been implemente­d, with one comparing family detention centers to “a summer camp.”

One official told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while the Trump administra­tion was developing its immigratio­n policies, Health and Human Services officials said they were worried “about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child.” Cmdr. Jonathan D. White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission­ed Corps, a branch of HHS, said they were also uncertain their department had enough resources to handle large numbers of detained immigrants.

“There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significan­t potential for traumatic psychologi­cal injury to the child,” White said.

Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., what response HHS officials got from administra­tion policymake­rs, White said, “The answer was there was no policy which would result in separation of children from family units.” White is a career official at HHS who has served in three administra­tions.

White’s remarks came as the Judiciary committee questioned officials about what has become an election-year liability for the Republican­s and the White House — President Donald Trump’s separation of migrant children from detained families. Trump dropped the policy more than a month ago under fire from Democrats and Republican­s alike. But of more than 2,500 children who were initially separated from parents and guardians, hundreds remain in federal custody — including more than 400 whose parents left the U.S. without them.

Lawmakers and journalist­s who have visited some detention facilities across the country and migrants themselves have reported poor conditions. The top members of the Judiciary committee — chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — have asked inspectors general of two federal agencies to investigat­e reports by news organizati­ons that immigrants at some centers have suffered alleged sexual and other forms of abuse.

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