Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) today signed on as a cosponsor to the Keep Families Together Act, which would formally abolish the Trump Administration’s recently-enacted policy of separating children from their parents in families seeking asylum at the U.S. border. The legislation, introduced today by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is the House companion of an identical Senate bill introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
“Donald Trump’s family separation policy is immoral and Congress must put a stop to it,” said Rep. Beyer. “Treating legal asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing violence which endangers their lives, in such a cruel manner is a violation of our country’s values and internationally-accepted agreements on human rights. Congress must put basic decency above partisan loyalties and immediately end this program which harkens back to some of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.”
Beyer and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) today visited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted facility in Anne Arundel County to see the effects of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy in person. There they met two fathers, Carlos and Mario (last names withheld for their protection), who had been separated from their young children for months without being able to speak with them.
“Both of these young fathers were in tears throughout our conversation, and remain deeply worried about their children. They both also told us that they have not had access to legal counsel,” Beyer said. He discussed the visit in a Facebook posting.
“There isn’t a law requiring Trump to do this, previous presidents did not have zero tolerance policies that led to this kind of family separation,” Beyer said. “They did not punish asylum-seekers at the border like Trump and Sessions are doing, intentionally. Family separation is wrong, it is a moral outrage, and I will be working with my colleagues in Congress to stop it. We should have zero tolerance for destroying families.”
The fathers’ stories
Beyer recounted the stories told to the Congressmen by the fathers.
“Carlos fled gang violence in Honduras with his 7-year-old son by train, and surrendered himself at the border in El Paso to CBP in March. Carlos told us he was imprisoned for 1-2 days with his legs chained together but still in custody of his son. Then he was separated from his son and transferred to Maryland. He was only able to connect with his son after months without speaking to him because his son had memorized a number for a family member back in Honduras. That family member was able to connect with a family friend in the States who was then finally able to connect them.
“Mario is also from Honduras. His sister was a victim of domestic violence committed by a local government official. He said that when they attempted to press charges through the legal system, Mario was attacked and beaten up by a gang of 4-5 men. They fled for their lives, taking buses from Honduras through Mexico with Mario’s 5-year-old daughter. They crossed the border and surrendered to CBP, which placed them together in an ‘ICE box’ for three days. Mario said his sister has since been granted asylum. After three days at the ICE facility, Mario said an officer approached him and told him to give up his daughter, or she would be taken away. He said his 5-year-old girl was dragged away from him crying and screaming, which was the last time he saw her. He was unable to talk to her for months. He was finally able to make contact with her last week, but he still does not know where she is being held.”
Beyer said that officials at the ICE facility were unaware that some of their detainees included fathers who had been separated from their children. They stated that the officers of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which apprehends people at the border, have failed to share family details and contact information.
Rep. Beyer previously attempted to eliminate funding for the Trump family separation policy with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was blocked by Republican leadership on the Rules Committee. He also joined over 100 Representatives on a formal appropriations request led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) to remove funding for the program.