Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Calls to Keep Families Together, Sustainable Solutions to Broken Immigration System

Washington, DC—In response to the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which separates children from their parents at the U.S. border, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) joined over 190 Members of Congress in introducing legislation to keep immigrant families together. The Keep Families Together Act (H.R. 6135) would prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from taking children from their parents at the U.S. border, except in extraordinary circumstances such as trafficking, abuse, or neglect. At least 2,342 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since May 2018.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “The Trump Administration’s use of children as pawns in the immigration debate is despicable and must end now. While the President signed an Executive Order today intended to end the policy of separating children from their parents, this will not solve the serious challenges we face and could create new ones. The fact is we need comprehensive immigration reform now. I joined my colleagues today in introducing the Keep Families Together Act to prevent migrant children from being taken from their parents, and to begin to fix our highly broken immigration system. We must put politics aside, and come together to address this important issue.”

"We wholeheartedly support the Keep Families Together Act and all of the representatives who are co-sponsoring it. Separating families as they seek asylum together is a blatant violation of human rights and must stop immediately! Many of them have been on the run from deadly violence and persecution and are seeking safety in the U.S. As a democratic and civilized society, the United States has a strong legacy of welcoming immigrants. Asylum seeker rights must continue to be protected by our laws," said Beatriz Cantelmo, on behalf of Amnesty International- Hawai?i Chapter.

The Keep Families Together Act (H.R. 6135) would:

  • Keep Families Together: The bill promotes family unity by prohibiting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents, except in extraordinary circumstances. In these limited circumstances, separation could not occur unless parental rights have been terminated, a child welfare agency has issued a best interest determination, or the Port Director or the Chief Border Patrol agent of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have approved separation due to trafficking indicators or other concerns of risk to the child. It requires an independent child welfare official to review any such separation and return the child if no harm to the child is present. It imposes financial penalties on officials who violate the prohibition on family separation.
  • Limit Criminal Prosecutions for Asylum Seekers: The majority of the parents separated at the border are being criminally prosecuted for illegal entry or re-entry. This bill restricts the prosecution of parents who are asylum seekers by adopting the recommendation of the DHS Office of Inspector General. The bill delays prosecutions for asylum seekers and creates an affirmative defense for asylum seekers. It also codifies our commitment to the Refugee protocol prohibiting the criminal punishment of those seeking protection from persecution.
  • Increase Child Welfare Training: The bill requires all CBP officers and agents to complete child welfare training on an annual basis. Port Directors and Chief Border Agents, those who are authorized to make decisions on family separations, must complete an additional 90 minutes of annual child-welfare training.
  • Establish Public Policy Preference for Family Reunification: The bill establishes a preference for family unity, discourages the separation of siblings, and creates a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.
  • Add Procedures for Separated Families: The bill requires DHS to develop policies and procedures allowing parents and children to locate each other and reunite if they have been separated.   Such procedures must be public and made available in a language that parents can understand.  In cases of separation, it requires DHS to provide parents with a weekly report containing information about a child, and weekly phone communication.
  • Establish Other Required Measures: In order to inform Congressional oversight and promote public understanding of the use family separation, the bill requires a report on the separation of families every six months.

The Keep Families Together Act is endorsed by the ACLU, Women's Refugee Commission, Third Way, Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, Indivisible, MomsRising, Legal Aid Justice Center, Amnesty International USA, Anti-Defamation League, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, UnidosUS, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Immigrant Justice Center, The Children’s Partnership, and more.

Background: Immigration reform has been one of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s top priorities throughout her time in Congress.  In addition to the DREAM Act, she has also co-sponsored two measures to protect families and children, including the DREAMer Information Protection Act (H.R. 532) which prohibits DHS’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) from being used for immigration enforcement proceedings and the BRIDGE Act (H.R. 496) which codifies the DACA program. In October, she hosted an immigration-focused telephone townhall to update Hawai‘i constituents on the status of DACA, and answer questions about education rights for DREAMers, fees for naturalization, qualifications to receive DACA, backlogs on citizenship applications, rules regarding re-entry for foreign-born relatives of U.S. military personnel, and more. A full recording of the event is available here. Most recently, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security urging the subcommittee to limit DHS’s ability to separate parents from their children.