President Trump and his aides for days denied that he had the power to do anything to alleviate the suffering inflicted on asylum seekers by his own policy. On Wednesday, he used his executive power to end mass child separations brought on by his “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Now Congress needs to do what it has consistently refused to do under this president — conduct serious, aggressive and thorough oversight concerning the children in custody at the border and others who surely will come.
Part of Congress’s investigation must entail accountability for how the initial zero-tolerance decision was implemented:
- Did the Department of Homeland Security plan for the influx? Did it plan properly?
- Did anyone conduct an evaluation of the harm done to children by forced separation from parents?
- Did anyone do a cost-benefit analysis of the zero-tolerance policy? Were other measures considered?
- Did the Justice Department conduct any legal analysis?
- What system was put in place to guarantee reunification of children with their parents?
- Have children been “lost”? Were they originally accompanied or unaccompanied minors?
- What steps have we taken to account for them?
- Who is responsible for “losing” children whom the United States had a moral obligation to look after once they were in our custody?
The bulk of the inquiry, however, must be about what has been going on at the border and what we can expect. As a preliminary matter, it is entirely unacceptable for members of Congress to be denied entry to see the facilities at any time. Requiring a week’s notice suggests that there is something to hide. Next we need to learn:
- How many children are being held? Where are they?
- Exactly what services are being provided? What is the ratio of caregiver to child, and what is the training of the caregiver?
- Has every child been medically examined? Are any receiving mental health care?
- What arrangements are made for children with disabilities?
- Does everyone at the facilities speak Spanish?
- What precisely is the children’s means of communicating with their parents? For how long and how frequently?
- What toys, books and other recreational supplies are provided? Do the children remain inside all day?
- Who confirms that all facilities are following all standards for care of the children?
- When will they be reunited with their parents?
- What is the cost of housing each person? How long will they be expected to remain in a facility?
- How many more children can we expect?
- What other facilities are being obtained to hold children and their families?
These are the sorts of questions Congress must ask. Whatever the administration has told us so far is woefully deficient and, frankly, unreliable. Since Trump and his minions have repeatedly misinformed the public about their policy, it falls to Congress, the press and state child welfare authorities to insist that they be permitted to see the children and their families and determine whether the administration is treating these refugees in a humane and legal manner.
Above all else, people and organizations outside the administration must watch the Trump team like hawks to make sure that children are reunited and that no child is “lost.”