While the Trump administration has discontinued its policy that resulted in thousands of migrant families split up at the border, U.S. officials continue to grapple with a crush of family crossings every month and dozens of children who the government says must be separated for health and safety concerns.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan told Congress Thursday that one to three separations occur every day when the care of the child is at risk. He described these cases as “extraordinarily rare” given the large numbers of families and children that have crossed the border in recent months.
“It’s a very rare situation and it’s got defined criteria that we've, by policy, mandated for our personnel in the field,” McAleenan said.
McAleenan cited Trump’s executive order that ended family separations and set guidance for keeping families together. Similar decisions about removing children from risky family situations were made during the Bush and Obama administrations.
The DHS chief acknowledged to senators the challenge of ensuring consistency in the process across immigration enforcement agencies.
“I think there's an opportunity with our civil rights and civil liberties office to look across our department and see if we can ensure that we're doing it consistently for (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE, for instance, and that we're taking all steps to consider the care of the child, the mental concerns the child might have in that scenario and explain it effectively,” McAleenan said in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Throughout the hearing, McAleenan was pressed on the maintenance of Border Patrol stations that have been overwhelmed with migrant families and children crossing the border in record numbers.
When pressed by Senator Gary Peters, the acting secretary acknowledged that not every child in CBP custody has access to a pediatrician, but are instead screened by health professionals when they’re taken into custody.
Homeland Security officials currently transport an average of 65 people a day to local hospitals for treatment and care. When the number of crossings began ramping up earlier this year and McAleenan was serving as the CBP head, he instituted new medical procedures.
There have been 6 known cases of migrant children dying after being apprehended by authorities along the border in the past year. U.S. officials have warned of the life-threatening conditions migrants face when attempting to enter the country between authorized entry points.