July 18, 2018

Duckworth Helps Introduce Legislation to Reunify and Protect Immigrant Families


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and 10 colleagues in introducing the Reunite Every Unaccompanied Newborn Infant, Toddler and Other Children Expeditiously (REUNITE) Act this week. The legislation that would immediately reunify all families and establish a permanent system of coordination between agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect detained immigrants with children. Government inaction has resulted in young migrant children failing to be reunified with their parents, resulting in roughly 2,500 children still separated from their families who remain at risk of short and long-term health impacts as a result of the trauma they’ve endured.

“Separating families to inflict trauma on children and parents is wrong, plain and simple,” said Duckworth. “Since the Trump Administration has deliberately chosen to enforce this practice, it is up to Congress to show moral leadership and reunite the families who were needlessly and cruelly ripped apart and ensure there are policies in place to stop this from ever happening again. I’m proud to join Senators Harris, Merkley and Cortez Masto to introduce this important bill that will help us do that.”


  • Requires the DHS and HHS Secretaries to publish guidance describing how they will reunify families. This guidance must include how to ensure sustained, no-cost contact between parents and children, access to children by legal counsel and other advocates, and unannounced inspections by child welfare organizations.
  • Requires immediate reunification of children who remain separated from a parent and legal guardian.
  • Creates presumption of release on recognizance, parole, or bond for parents of separated children.
  • Restores the Family Case Management Program.
    • Creates presumption that parents will not be deported until their child’s immigration proceeding is over or the child turns 18.
    • Prohibits DHS from using information, including DNA information, obtained pursuant to this Act for immigration enforcement purposes.
    • Creates privacy protections around the use of DNA testing to establish familial relationships.
    • Requires the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, and the HHS Secretary to establish the Office for Locating and Reuniting Children with Parents, an interagency office, to expedite and facilitate the reunification of children and parents separated after enter the U.S.
    • Redirects $50 million in appropriations from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) for the enforcement of this Act.

In addition to Duckworth, Harris, Merkley and Cortez Masto, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

The REUNITE Act has received support from the following organizations: National Immigrant Justice Center, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First, UnidosUS, Immigration Hub, Church World Service, Mainstreet Alliance, MomsRising, National Council of Jewish Women, Inc., Southern Border Communities Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, FIRM, Center for Community Change, National Immigration Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants, Center for Victims of Torture, and First Focus Campaign for Children, Association for Child Psychoanalysis, National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), Indivisible, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), American Academy of Pediatrics, and Earthjustice.

Last month, Duckworth called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and implement a plan to reunite families who were forcibly separated under President Trump’s “zero- tolerance” policy. In the letter to HHS Secretary Azar and DHS Secretary Nielsen, Duckworth also demanded they provide information to ensure separated children are being adequately cared for and that proper documentation is being kept to ensure separated families are reunited and are able to regularly communicate while in custody of DHS or HHS. Duckworth is still awaiting a response from either department on these requests.

Full text of the REUNITE Act is available here.