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H.R. 5950 (115th): HELP Separated Children Act

When an family attempts cross the border into the United States illegally, should the children be split up from their parents after being apprehended?


In May, the Trump Administration announced a new policy that will separate families at the border when they attempt to illegally immigrate to the U.S. Children had previously been allowed to stay with their families in shelters while in limbo before deportation.

How frequently is this occurring? During a two-week period in May shortly after Sessions announced the policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection separated more than 650 children from their parents. That would come out to more than 33,000 such cases per year.

What the bill does

The HELP Separated Children Act [H.R. 5950 + S. 2937] would cut back these policies.

The legislation would allow children to visit parents who are detained, allow parents one last goodbye to their children prior to being taken into custody, and require Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to consider the best interests of children when making detention or transfer decisions regarding parents.

The acronym HELP in the legislation stands for Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections.

The legislation was introduced on May 23, by by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) in the Senate and by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA40) in the House. (Roybal-Allard had previously introduced a similar bill in March, but revamped it in light of Sessions’ announcement.)

President Trump bizarrely claimed that his own administration’s policy was instituted by Democrats. It’s unclear exactly what he was referring to, but it’s believed to be in reference to a 2008 law passed by a Democratic Congress but signed by Republican President George W. Bush, which only focuses on children who cross the border without a parent or guardian.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation is a humane alternative to a border policy gone amok in its zealous crusade for maximum deportations.

“As the Trump Administration accelerates its cruel efforts to tear apart immigrant families at the border, it has never been more critical for us to protect the children who are impacted by the administration’s remorseless family separation policies,” Rep. Roybal-Allard said in a press release.

“[The bill will introduce] new tools to help protect these children from trauma and permanent separation from their parents. If we have any decency, we must work to reduce the pain caused to children by this administration’s draconian immigration reforms,” Roybal-Allard added. “We must keep fighting for a comprehensive immigration reform package that treats children and families humanely while keeping our border secure.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the policy is a tough-on-crime approach that could dissuade would-be illegal crossings at the border by families. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when announcing the policy in May. ”It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

Sessions also turned to the Bible in justifying his Justice Department’s policies.

“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said in a speech. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

(That same Bible passage has also previously been used in defense of southern slavery and German Nazism.)

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 15 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Judiciary Committee.

The Senate version has attracted 25 cosponsors, also all Democrats. It also awaits a potential vote in the Judiciary Committee.

While the bill stands little chance in the current Republican-controlled Congress, some conservatives (though not many) have criticized the Trump Administration’s policy on the grounds that it violates family values. Rev. Franklin Graham, usually a Trump supporter, said the policy “ripped [families] apart” and was “disgraceful.”

Last updated Jun 18, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on May 23, 2018.

Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act or the HELP Separated Children Act

This bill sets forth Department of Homeland Security apprehension procedures with respect to children involved in immigration enforcement actions, including detention center access to courts, welfare agencies, and consular officials.