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Huizenga op-ed: Family Reunification Should be a Priority for Congress

Like most in West Michigan and throughout our nation, I was heartbroken to learn of the actions being taken at our southern border. The United States is a nation of laws, but it is also a nation built upon the foundation of compassion and strong families. While it is critical that we enact reforms to secure our borders and work to fix our broken immigration system, the notion of automatically separating families runs counter to my values as a father, as well as the core values of our nation.

For these reasons, I called on the Administration to immediately end the policy of separating young children and infants from their parents and I didn’t stop there. Recognizing both the urgency of the situation and the need for leadership on this issue, I took action to right this inhumane policy by introducing the bipartisan Family Reunification Act prior to the action by the Administration or the courts.

The Family Reunification Act would require the federal government to immediately reunite separated children with their families. Specifically, it directs the Homeland Security Secretary, in conjunction with the Attorney General and Secretary of Health and Human Services Department, to use “all necessary means” to ensure that each unaccompanied, undocumented migrant child removed from the custody of a parent or legal guardian within 100 miles of the border be reunited with the parent or legal guardian “at the earliest possible date.”

On Friday, I took my actions a step further by attempting to visit a location where children who were separated from their families at the southern border are being housed by families here in West Michigan under the care of Bethany Christian Services. While Bethany seemed to indicate a visit would be welcome and help tell the story of how the children that have been sent to Michigan are receiving top notch medical care and attention, I was turned away at the door by the federal government.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which oversees care for the children, they needed two weeks notification prior to a visit. I find this to be a ridiculous and outdated requirement, especially when one considers the Acting Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families told Members of Congress that the required notification time was 24 hours. After continuing the conversation with officials at ORR, I learned the policy of two weeks notification was actually instituted by the Obama Administration, and that the Trump Administration was continuing the policy. As a member of Congress, it is my job to represent and address the concerns of West Michigan. The Trump Administration should change this policy immediately.

Reforming our outdated immigration laws is going to require multiple pieces of legislation as well as Democrats and Republicans working together. The latest efforts considered in the House of Representatives took a multi-faceted approach to addressing the many issues at hand. Unfortunately, despite my vote in favor of both measures, neither was able to gain the majority of votes necessary to pass. That is why I believe we need to take a more targeted approach.

While the actions taken by the Administration to end the separation of families as well as the action taken by a federal judge in California to reunite separated families are both steps in the right direction, neither carries the permanency of law. The Family Reunification Act would reunite families and provide legislative clarity to resolve the crisis at hand. Congress must stop outsourcing its Constitutional authority to the Executive and Judicial Branches of government and pass legislation.

I believe that the Family Reunification Act can serve as a step towards ending the partisan bickering in Washington. I believe Congress must craft a narrowly tailored legislative solution that balances our compassion with the fact that some individuals are exploiting loopholes in our immigration system and actively trafficking children across the border.

So far, 21 members of Congress have joined my effort. While some may view this as an uphill climb, I am committed to working towards solutions that restore families, strengthen border integrity, and reform our outdated and broken immigration system.

— Bill Huizenga represents Michigan’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. This article appeared in the June 30th edition of the Holland Sentinel.

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