U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and three Illinois congressmen lambasted the Trump administration Friday for failing to reunify the more than 2,000 children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of its “zero tolerance” enforcement policy by Thursday’s court-mandated deadline.
As of Thursday, the government had successfully reunified 1,442 children with their relatives.
But 711 children separated from their parents or other family members are still in government custody. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported at least 431 of those children’s family members.
Seventeen children still waiting to be reunified with their parents are sheltered in detention centers in Illinois as of Thursday, according to ProPublica Illinois.
At a press conference outside the Kluczynski Federal Building, Duckworth questioned the Trump administration’s resolve in reunifying all separated families.
“How many court orders does the Trump administration need in order to reunite these families and to fix a problem of their own making?” Duckworth asked. “This is something no mother should ever experience and no child should go through.”
Congressmen Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill.; Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.; and Brad Schneider, D-Ill., echoed Duckworth’s concerns during a separate press conference at the Chicago Public Library’s King Branch in Bronzeville.
“We took these children from their parents, and we have a moral and legal obligation to find their parents wherever there are,” Krishnamoorthi said.
The four members of Congress also questioned what they called a lack of transparency between Heartland Alliance, the agency contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement to house and care for migrant children, and the public about its operations.
“I live a block away from [one of their facilities] and didn’t know about it until recently,” Rush said.
Heartland Alliance runs nine detention shelters in the Chicago area for unaccompanied migrant children apprehended at the border.
Heartland Alliance has since come under scrutiny for allegations of abuse and maltreatment at its facilities, in particular at its Des Plaines center known as Casa Guadalupe.
Duckworth said the Department of Health and Human Services denied her request to visit asa Guadalupe on Friday, adding that the agency appears to be “stonewalling” oversight efforts.
“What are they hiding?,” she asked.
In a statement, the agency said that it made an effort to “determine if the tour could be moved to another facility at her request, but that facility was unable to accommodate the size of the tour request.”
“Nevertheless, HHS is still working with Senator Duckworth’s office to schedule a tour in the near future,” the agency added.
On Wednesday, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that requires Heartland Alliance and other child welfare agencies to register with the city and be subject to regular inspections.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Heartland Alliance said it has no objection to additional oversight.
CORRECTION: An article that ran in Friday’s edition misattributed the reason why Senator Tammy Duckworth was unable to visit Heartland Alliance’s shelter, Casa Guadalupe. Heartland Alliance did not cancel her request to visit the shelter; it does not have the authority to approve or deny visits at its facilities. The Sun-Times regrets this error.