Nearly two dozens senators are demanding answers regarding the Trump administration’s “surge initiative” against undocumented immigrants, particularly parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors.
On Friday, 22 senators sent a strongly-worded letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that contradicted claims by Trump administration officials that a new strategy targeting parents and relatives of unaccompanied minors fleeing Central American violence is an effort to fight human trafficking organizations.
Immigration officials earlier this month confirmed that they had begun targeting for arrest parents or other relatives who have provided shelter or otherwise assisted undocumented children who came to the U.S. illegally. They are now threatening these relatives with possible criminal smuggling charges, following a memo Kelly signed and circulated among agencies last February calling for the “surge.”
The strategy flies in the face of repeated statements by the administration that the ongoing anti-immigrant crackdown would target only “hardened criminals.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the tactics are an effort to thwart “transnational criminal organizations and human smuggling facilitators.” In their letter on Friday, the senators, mostly Democrats, called that justification a myth:
The purported objective of this initiative is to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling operations, yet the Administration has provided very little information as to how these operations are being carried out and against whom. In reality, this initiative does not make our country safer, but instead exposes children to prolonged detention and separation from their families. This includes an adverse impact on mixed-status families, where U.S. citizen children may be separated from their parent or guardian and placed in the child welfare system. We strongly oppose this misguided policy that takes resources away from addressing true public safety threats and hurts children.
The letter noted that many of these children have fled conditions of horrific violence in Latin America, including the constant threat from violent gangs in Central America’s Northern Triangle region of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and from Mexico’s extremely violent drug cartels.
The senators called the surge initiative “cruel and senseless.”
Pediatric studies have noted that detention of immigrant children has negative effects on mental and developmental wellbeing. As a DHS advisory committee concluded last year, detention “is never in the best interest of children.”
Lawmakers also demanded answers by July 31 to several questions about the actions of the administration and immigration agencies, including the number of people arrested as part of the surge initiative, policies in place to provide care for unaccompanied children, and the number of people arrested and charged with human smuggling, human trafficking, or any other federal crime as a result of the new policy.
The latest effort to push back against Trumpian anti-immigrant policies is being led by California senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein. Read the entire letter here.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported Friday that immigration officials are planning nationwide raids starting Sunday targeting teenagers who entered the country unaccompanied and without legal authorization. The raids also will target alleged gang members, whom ICE identifies as someone who meets two of the following criteria: having gang tattoos, frequenting an area notorious for gangs, or wearing gang apparel.