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Shaheen Helps Introduce Legislation to Halt Separation of Immigrant Families

(Washington, DC)— Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and a group of 30 Senators to introduce legislation to keep immigrant families together by preventing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from separating children from their parents at the border. 

The Keep Families Together Act was developed in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the federal government is acting in the best interest of children. The bill is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Children’s Law Center and the Young Center for Immigrant Rights.

“This policy is a living nightmare for these parents and their children, reflects horribly on our nation and should be ceased immediately,” said Shaheen. “It also does nothing to enhance our border or national security, nor does it solve problems plaguing our immigration system. This policy is needless and further traumatizes immigrants, who often times come to the United States seeking refuge after fleeing violence or unsafe living conditions. I’m glad to help introduce this bill and will keep fighting to end this heinous policy.”

On May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that all adults who arrive at the border would be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they attempt to seek asylum. This policy, which has never before been pursued, has resulted in parents being separated from their children.

Prosecuting individuals who are seeking asylum may also violate the United States’ obligations under international law, including the U.N. convention on refugees and its Protocol.

The Keeping Families Together Act simply prohibits U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from separating children from their parents – it does not prevent DHS from enforcing the law and continuing to prosecute individuals for violating immigration laws. To ensure the bill protects the welfare of children, it allows children to be separated from their parents only in the event they are being trafficked or abused by their parents. To provide an additional layer of protection, the bill provides for an immediate review by a superior upon the recommendation to separate, and only after consultation with a child welfare expert.

Senator Shaheen previously questioned DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about this policy during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing earlier this year. And at a May 24, 2018, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Customs and Border Protection informed the committee that 658 children were taken from 638 parents during a 14-day period in May, an average of 47 children being taken from their parents each day.

The bill is cosponsored by 31 senators including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Udall (D-NM) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).