HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s governor says at least four children from his state were recently separated from their parents by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and wrote Monday to demand the agency halt the practice until it has a plan to ensure the welfare of children.
Gov. Tom Wolf asked Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan to account for all children separated from their parents this year in Pennsylvania and to tell him how long they were kept apart and about any steps the federal government took to ensure their well-being.
Wolf said in the letter that the four children are U.S. citizens and come from at least three migrant families. He said that “information relayed” to state officials indicated federal agents did not make sure that the children had adequate temporary guardianship.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman in Philadelphia said in an email that any response to Wolf’s letter “would come through the appropriate channels.”
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said the separations occurred in Philadelphia in late July, and at least two of the kids have since been reunited with their parents.
He said the administration has been working to get more details about what happened in Philadelphia, including exactly when and where the separations occurred.
“We know that at least two, their parents were eventually released, and the families were reunited,” Abbott said. “But I don’t believe on the other two we had any finality of the result.”
The emailed statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency “exercises discretion” when arresting someone with children to ensure someone is available to care for the children, “consistent with local, state and federal law enforcement conventions and protocols.”
In June 2018 — days after President Donald Trump retreated amid an international uproar — a federal judge ordered that the practice of splitting up families at the border be halted except in limited circumstances, such as threats to child safety. The judge left individual decisions to the administration’s discretion.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s practices regarding children drew scrutiny again last week, after 680 migrants were arrested at seven Mississippi chicken processing plants.
Trump said Friday the Mississippi raids served as “a very good deterrent” and defended the lack of sufficient advance preparation for dealing with the children whose parents were detained.
“The reason is because you have to go in, you can’t let anybody know, otherwise when you get there, nobody will be there,” Trump said.
Wolf, a Democrat, told McAleenan that state government is willing to help to place asylum seekers in communities and make sure any separated children are adequately cared for.
Wolf said children can’t be left to fend for themselves “while your department prioritizes overly aggressive enforcement over their health and safety.”
“This is absolutely irresponsible. Even worse, we are not aware that proper child welfare protocols — or even common sense — were used to ensure safe and legal temporary guardianship for these minor children,” Wolf wrote.
After the Mississippi raids, three Democratic congressmen sought more information about how many parents were separated from their children and whether any remain separated.
Wolf told McAleenan that putting children through separation was likely unjustified unless both parents were a threat to the children or others.
“Was this the case? If not, this is as unnecessary as it is callous,” Wolf wrote.