A refugee resettlement official told the Trump administration that separating families at the border posed psychological dangers for children. The policy proceeded anyway.
Jonathan White, the Office of Refugee Resettlement's former deputy director, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that "there is no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child." White told lawmakers that he relayed that same information to White House officials for months, but was consistently told family separation "was not the policy of the United States."
White was part of a committee hearing with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, and ORR officials to answer questions about President Trump's policy separating children from parents at the border. Before he left his ORR position on March 15, he was part of discussions surrounding a hypothetical family separation policy. But even on the day he left the agency — just weeks before the family separation policy took effect — White said he was essentially told it wasn't going to happen. Flash forward a few months, and multiple experts have backed up White's insistence that family separation has hurt children's mental health.
White also discussed how border patrol systems for tracking migrant children were "not set up to have referrals include parent information," seeing as those unaccompanied minors usually didn't arrive with guardians to begin with. That's one of several reasons reunification is taking longer than expected, White said at Tuesday's hearing.
Most children in ORR care do arrive at the border without a parent or guardian, White affirmed. Only about 15 to 20 percent of unaccompanied children were actually separated by the government, and that includes children who were taken from parents with serious criminal records — something ORR has been doing for years.