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Sen. Chris Murphy condemns “perverse secrecy of child separation”

The Democratic lawmaker said he and his colleagues were barred from visiting a child separated from their family.

Rep. Chris Murphy, Activists, Call For Steps To End Gun Violence On Capitol Hill
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

About 2,000 children remain separated from their families, more than a week after the Trump administration ended its own policy of splitting up families at the border.

The detention centers for children on the border have come under intense scrutiny. But many of these children are sent to shelters or other nonprofit facilities in cities across the country, sometimes thousands of miles away from their parents.

On Friday, Sen Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) attempted to visit a child separated from their family who was being housed in a nonprofit facility in Groton, Connecticut. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) denied the lawmakers access, according to Murphy.

“The perverse secrecy of child separation should concern us all,” Murphy wrote in a tweet.

“HHS’s excuse was that we need to give 14 days notice,” Murphy continued. “What?? 14 days of forced separation from your parent can traumatize a kid for life. And we aren’t asking to see nuclear codes - we just wanted 10 min to make sure the child is ok.”

Murphy went on to criticize the administration’s lack of transparency — and the GOP’s relative silence.

In a statement from Murphy and Blumenthal, the senators said they had received approval to visit the home, run by Noank Community Services, in Groton. As of Friday evening, Murphy’s office said it had not yet received a response from the administration about why they were turned away.

An official with the Department of Health and Human Services said that a visit from the members had not been approved, and confirmed that HHS requires a two-week notification, at minimum, to make sure tours don’t interfere with the care of unaccompanied alien children. (Children separated from their families are designated as unaccompanied alien children.) According to HHS, that policy has been in place prior to the Trump administration, since 2015.

There are still so many questions about separated families

This battle between lawmakers and HHS raises more questions about the administration’s handling of children and families separated at the border.

Lawmakers and journalists have visited and reported on facilities along the border, but have largely been unable to take photographs or videos, left only to describe what they see inside. Images of children in cage-like enclosures or sprawled on mattresses with foil blankets generated outrage — but they have all been issued by the government. That’s led to even more concerns about the children separated from their families, especially since the most powerful documentation of the family separation crisis — audio of a sobbing child — amplified the pressure on Trump to rescind his policy.

As Murphy points out, a nonprofit facility with experience caring for kids isn’t a border shelter. But the scale and scope of Trump’s family separation policy is still being pieced together, largely by anecdotes, from immigration attorneys or migrants who share their stories.

The administration has scrambled to implement a plan to unite families. A judge has ordered the government to speed up the process, which has remained fraught with confusion and chaos. The status of these kids remains murky, and immigration advocates and attorneys say parents are still struggling to even find out where their children are being housed.

What’s more, as Vox’s Dara Lind reported, the administration is reuniting families — so they can deport them together. That’s forcing many parents to make an impossible choice: forgo a possible asylum claim, or remain apart from their children for weeks, months, or longer.

Murphy isn’t the only Democratic lawmakers challenging the administration for more answers about separated families; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is demanding information from the Department of Homeland Security and HHS about the federal government’s handling of these migrant families, saying she was “appalled” by what she witnessed in a border processing and ICE “family reunification and removal center” in Texas.

Update: This post has been updated with comments from HHS.