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February 27, 2024

Panetta co-authors ‘Keep Families Together Act’

Courtesy of Congressman Jimmy Panetta:

Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)along with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) authored and introduced the Keep Families Together Act of 2019.  The legislation will prohibit DHS officials from separating children from their parents and institute safeguards to protect and promote the legal rights, health and wellness of asylum seekers, children, and their families.  The bill has already garnered 184 additional co-sponsors.

“Although we are working to open up the government, we are continuing to fight against the Administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy that has resulted in thousands of family separations.  That is why I, again, co-authored and co-introduced the Keep Families Together Act, to protect children from being needlessly separated from their parents,” said Congressman Panetta (D-CA).  “I will continue to work with my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to address the Administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy and achieve comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform.”

In response to the latest tragic deaths in U.S. custody of young migrant children and the Trump Administration’s continued refusal to rule out reinstituting the family separation policy, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) also announced today that he has sent letters to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Nielsen, Department of Justice (DOJ) Acting Attorney General Whitaker, and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Azar regarding the turning over of any information and preservation of records for the many unanswered questions about the development and execution of the “zero tolerance” policy, migrant detention, and related policies on the border.

“As this new Congress begins, the House Judiciary Committee will make good on its promise to the American people to hold the Trump Administration accountable for the abhorrent family separation policy that ripped children from the arms of their parents,” said Chairman Nadler (D-NY).  “These document requests, many of them sought for months, are just the start.  We have already put the relevant agencies on notice that in the coming weeks we will schedule hearings in order to finally hold the Administration accountable for its policies and conduct.  We take seriously our responsibility to conduct meaningful and fair oversight, and stand ready to act with Keep Families Together Act of 2019 if the Administration ever attempts this policy again.”

Background on the Keep Families Together Act of 2019:

  • Keep Families Together:  The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting DHS officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances.  In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child.  It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present.  It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
  • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry.  This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General.  The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers.  It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis.  Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.  Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with weekly reports about their children and regular communication.
  • Establish Other Required Measures:  To inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.