Immigration officials dodged a number of questions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday focused on the family separation crisis at the border, but they all seemed to agree on one thing: The Trump Administration policy that resulted in the crisis was flawed.
One of the most telling moments of the three and a half hour hearing came when the five witnesses — representing the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol — were asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) whether any thought the policy of separating children from their parents at the border had been a success. All remained silent.
The policy, enacted in May of this year, became a public relations and logistical nightmare for the Trump Administration as immigration officials scrambled to reunite migrant children with their parents in advance of a recent court-ordered deadline. Officials at Tuesday’s hearing were at times unable to provide updated or exact numbers for the children that have been reunited with their families, and unable to offer clear explanations on why some still remained in the U.S. government’s care.
Jonathan White, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he even cautioned administration officials separating children from their families would be both harmful to the child and logistically burdensome for HHS.
"There's no question that separation of children from their parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child," White said.
Another official, Matthew Albence, head of enforcement and removal operations for ICE, dismissed reports of unsanitary and unsafe conditions for children and migrant women at government facilities, describing the family residence centers as “more like a summer camp."
“These individuals have 24-hour access to food, water. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities both structured and unstructured,” he said.
But while all of the officials acknowledged there were issues with the family separation policy, and challenges in reuniting families, none could offer a specific explanation for what went wrong in the process of implementing the policy, or any clear solutions to fix the problem going forward.
This segment originally aired July 31, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.