New Report Details Separation of Infants, Children on US-Mexico Border
Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a detailed report on the separation of migrant children from their families in detention facilities. The report indicates that at least 18 migrant children under the age of 2 – some as young as four-months old – were separated from their parents. The report finds cases where young children were kept from their parents for as long as six months.
The Flores settlement agreement restricts the federal government from detaining migrant children for a long period of time. In April 2018, the Administration adopted a policy to separate children from their parents as part of a “zero-tolerance” enforcement strategy. Amid court challenges and public outcry, the Administration halted the policy in June 2018. The Administration has since moved to alter the Flores settlement agreement, and the House report identified over 2,600 children who were held in detention facilities separate from their parents. Most of these 2,600 children were being held longer than permissible under the Flores settlement agreement.
The report is paired with renewed scrutiny of the Administration’s detention policy. On last Friday, representatives and officials from the Department of Homeland Security testified on the conditions at detention facilities – noting serious overcrowding, an overwhelming stench, and reports of detained women being told to drink water out of toilets.
Vice President Mike Pence visited facilities last week as well, seeing nearly 400 migrant adults crammed into a single cage. These visits follow condemnation by Michele Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who noted that detention of children “may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that is prohibited by international law.”
House Pushing Budget Deal Before August Recess
Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued negotiations on federal spending, with Speaker Pelosi urging action before Congress leaves the capital for the August recess. The Treasury Department has indicated that the nation will hit the debt ceiling – the legal limit to federal borrowing – in the early fall. Speaker Pelosi and key appropriators have encouraged Congress to pair a debt ceiling increase with a broader budget deal that would authorize total spending numbers for FY 2020. As a debt ceiling increase must be passed before the early fall, it provides the House Majority a prime opportunity to ensure that a budget deal is also reached - a key element of which is their effort to protect non-defense discretionary program funding.
The House has already passed FY 2020 appropriations bills – including robust WIC funding – using estimated total numbers. The Senate has waited for a broader budget deal before beginning the FY 2020 appropriations process. Key appropriators have indicated that a continuing resolution will be necessary to extend federal spending should no deal be reached before the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
Administration Abandons Effort to Include Citizenship Question in Census
The Administration has decided against a renewed push to place a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The long-brewing effort to include a citizenship question suffered a major setback when the Supreme Court ruled that the Administration lacked an adequate justification. Despite publicly musing about alternative avenues for including the question, the Administration formally dropped the push last week and began printing new Census forms.
As a result of the prolonged fight, it is unclear whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will remain with the Administration. The White House issued an executive order last week to identify citizenship information through existing data and other means – a move that is drawing scrutiny from advocacy groups.
The inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census would have led to an undercount, as immigrant or mixed-status families would have feared responding to Census forms. An undercount would have resulted in inaccurate data, which could skew federal funding formulas – including WIC’s funding formula. As a result, states with large immigrant communities could have lost out on federal resources to support programs and community efforts.
White House Reviewing Final Public Charge Rule
After months of deliberations, the Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule is in the final stages of review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The public charge rule would expand an immigration doctrine that penalizes immigrants from lawfully accessing federal programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and housing subsides. As of the last proposed version issued in September 2018, WIC is not included in any revisions to public charge.
While the White House is reviewing the proposed rule, there are no legally effective changes to immigration policy until a final rule is issued. The proposed rule also included a grace period of 60 days before any negative consequences went into effect. There is no timeframe for how long the White House review will take. NWA will update members and provide new resources if a final rule is issued.
NWA joined a chorus of national organizations in opposing the proposed public charge rule. Over 266,000 stakeholders weighed in during the public comment process, including healthy representation from the WIC community. Despite this advocacy, a chilling effect has discouraged WIC participation among immigrant families, leaving many families without access to WIC’s vital nutrition and breastfeeding support.