WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee will subpoena three Trump administration officials for records on the government’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The move comes as the administration is facing fierce criticism after acknowledging that many more children may have been separated than previously known.
On a bipartisan 25-to-11 vote, the panel’s members on Tuesday authorized Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., to subpoena Attorney General William Barr, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for the records.
In a statement, Cummings described the policy as tantamount to “government-sponsored child abuse” and said that after months of requests by the panel, “further delay is not an option.”
“These subpoenas will be the first issued by the committee in the 116th Congress,” Cummings said. “I did not make this decision lightly. As many of you know, I have been passionate about this issue since it first became public last year, and I believe it is a true national emergency.”
Republican Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Justin Amash of Michigan joined all of the committee’s Democrats in voting to authorize the subpoenas.
In a statement, HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said the agency “understands and appreciates the important role of Congressional oversight and has communicated regularly and in good faith” with members of the committee.
“Additionally, we have transparently provided 792 pages of documents related to the Committee’s request and offered their staff a review of the Office of Refugee Resettlement portal at the Department,” Oakley said.
Spokespeople for DOJ and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A report last month by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services said the Trump administration probably separated thousands more parents from their children than previously made public. The report prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to ask a federal judge this month to order the administration to account for all of the separated children.
The Oversight Committee said Tuesday that Cummings had sent at least five letters to the agencies involved since August but that the information that they had provided in response was insufficient.
“The agencies sent last-minute letters over the past several days with limited sets of documents, but they were either nonresponsive, redacted, or included only aggregated information,” the panel said. “To this day, none of the agencies has committed to providing the specific information the committee needs to ensure that families are reunited.”