July 17, 2018

Kaine Joins Colleagues To Introduce Bill To Reunify And Protect Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) to introduce the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act. The bill would require the immediate reunification of all families separated by President Trump’s policies and establish a permanent system of coordination between agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect detained immigrants with children. Kaine is concerned about the government’s inaction that has left almost 2,600 children still separated from their families and at risk of short and long-term health impacts from trauma they have experienced.

“The Trump Administration created a crisis when they heartlessly ripped families apart, and they’ve demonstrated their inability to fix it, as nearly 2,600 kids have still yet to be reunited with their parents.” Kaine said. “Congress needs to step in and ensure vulnerable families are protected and every child is reunited with their parents. This bill would help us do just that.”

"The Trump administration created this problem," said Amanda Ballantyne, Main Street Alliance national director. "They need to resolve it immediately at no cost to the families. The REUNITE Act will help return nearly 3,000 migrant children to their parents after a period of prolonged, awful detention."

"We know how difficult it is for families separated by our immigration detention system to find one another,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC). “We have been locating disappeared loved ones since 2010, but there is a solution to prevent family separation. The REUNITE Act will ensure parents and children are reunited and prevent future separations by establishing a community-based alternative to detention that is humane and does not include incarceration."

The REUNITE Act:

  • Requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretaries to publish guidance describing how they will reunify families. This guidance must include how to ensure sustained, no-cost contact between parents and children, access to children by legal counsel and other advocates, and unannounced inspections by child welfare organizations.
  • Requires immediate reunification of children who remain separated from a parent and legal guardian.
  • Creates presumption of release on recognizance, parole, or bond for parents of separated children.
  • Restores the Family Case Management Program.
  • Creates presumption that parents will not be deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is over or the child turns 18.
  • Prohibits DHS from using information, including DNA information, obtained pursuant to this Act for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • Creates privacy protections around the use of DNA testing to establish familial relationships.
  • Requires the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, and the HHS Secretary to establish the Office for Locating and Reuniting Children with Parents, an interagency office, to expedite and facilitate the reunification of children and parents separated after enter the U.S.
  • Redirects $50 million in appropriations from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for the enforcement of this Act.

The REUNITE Act has received support from the following organizations: National Immigrant Justice Center, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First, UnidosUS, Immigration Hub, Church World Service, Mainstreet Alliance, MomsRising, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Southern Border Communities Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, FIRM, Center for Community Change, National Immigration Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Center for Victims of Torture, and First Focus Campaign for Children, Association for Child Psychoanalysis, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Indivisible, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), American Academy of Pediatrics, and Earthjustice.

In addition to Kaine, Harris, Merkley, and Cortez Masto, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Full text of the bill is available here.

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