A day after the Trump administration missed its court-appointed deadline for the reunification of just over 100 young immigrant children with their parents, an Oregon congresswoman offered her services to help the relevant federal agency.
“If the problem is that these agencies are understaffed, then I’ll come over to the Department of Health and Human Services and volunteer to help,” said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) in a speech on the floor of the U.S. House. “I’m sure many of my colleagues would join me.”
The Trump administration policy of separating children and parents at the border caused widespread outrage and a media firestorm, particularly after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) visited a facility for children at the border and was turned away early last month.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the policy of child separations on June 20, but the administration has failed to meet the deadline set by the courts of reuniting children under age 5 with their parents.
It's not clear that Bonamici could be of service in helping the federal government meet the deadline for helping the children under 5 years old. But she has some relevant experience, potentially. She's lawyer by training; she worked as a legal aid attorney and was a former staffer for the Federal Trade Commission.
HHS has said they were working to run background checks and, in some cases, DNA tests on parents in advance of reuniting parents with children.
As of Tuesday, the government had blocked the reunification of at least 16 kids with parents with criminal histories or with other safety red flags, and 10 kids whose parents are in federal or local "criminal custody," the news website Vox reported.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which won the court injunction requiring reunifications, part of the holdup is a bureaucratic decision to follow the procedures that the agency has in place for reuniting unaccompanied minors with parents or guardians, including background checks and even home visits.
It took two weeks for the federal government to attempt to address just over 100 cases.
By July 27, another 2,900 reunifications of older children are mandated by the court. It's not clear how that can happen at the rate the federal government agencies are working on it.
Bonamici says her offer is not merely rhetorical.
"My offer to volunteer at HHS stands," Bonamici tells WW in a statement. "I will do anything I can to help reunite these children with their families."
She also accused the Trump administration of failing to provide "a legitimate reason why they have failed to comply with the deadline in the court order to reunite the younger children with their parents. This is a court order, not a suggestion."
"The administration must be transparent and work with Congress to accelerate the process of reuniting families," she added in her statement.
"If they need assistance getting the families back together, I stand ready to help. Until then, I will continue to do everything I can to hold the administration accountable for the pain and trauma it is inflicting on young children and their loved ones."