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Va. Senators Kaine, Warner Meet With Faith Leaders on Family Separations

VIRGINIA SENATORS Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (right) sat with eight regional faith and non-profit leaders to share thoughts on how to end the family separation policy that has been in effect. (Photo: News-Press)

CORRECTION: A previous version of the article said Senators Warner and Kaine had been denied access to the detention centers. They have not been turned down.

In Arlington today, Virginia’s U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner came together for an emergency meeting with eight leaders of regional faith-based and immigration-linked non-profits to compare notes on the current family separation crisis. In the meeting, the senators claimed that President Trump’s executive order on the matter last night “raises more questions than it answers,” as children seized at the U.S.-Mexico border remain separated from parents in detention facilities around the U.S.

Kaine and Warner discussed two detention centers in Virginia, one in Bristow and another leased from a prison facility in Staunton. They said they intend to get into those centers and not just look, but interview the children to find out how they’re being treated and coping with the trauma of being separated from their families.

“How dare they turn us down,” he intoned. “They work for us, not the other way around. When they won’t let people in, they’re trying to hide something.” He said that two bills to address the issue on Congress today “won’t work,” because Republicans are hoping they can go it alone, forcing Democrats to go along on the GOP’s terms.” The senators said they support a bill for comprehensive immigration reform introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein.

Kaine said he’s been very heartened by the response of the U.S. population to this crisis. “The Trump administration did this because they thought the American population wouldn’t care. But the public has stood up forcefully, insisting that it still has a moral compass.

Warner opened the event, held at the Universalist Unitarian Church on S. George Mason Dr. in Arlington, saying, “Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse with the Trump administration, then comes this.” He called Trump “morally bankrupt” and “lacking in any regard for the rule of law.” The Trump administration “has a basic lack of humanity” in this case, he added. “It has so little regard for children.”

There are reports, one participant said, that over 12,000 children overall are being held apart from their parents in custody in the U.S. now. Kaine said he hopes that “good hearted people will step up to help put the families back together.”

Overall, participants in today’s meeting testified about how fear is driving minorities underground, including those legally here. “There’s been a dramatic decline in the willingness of people to come out,” one said.

Warner suggested three steps, to get information out (especially in the face of all the disinformation Trump is spewing), to “raise our voices” that includes voting, and to launch investigations where necessary to get the root and extent of problems. Kaine added the need for ongoing dialogue with the community to learn what compromises, if any, will achieve the results the community needs.
On Friday, Kaine visited Youth for Tomorrow’s program in Bristow, Virginia. For six years, Youth for Tomorrow (a non-profit charity that has served children since 1986) has accepted unaccompanied minor children. In addition to the unaccompanied minors, between 10 and 20 children have arrived since April after being separated from their parents under President Trump’s policy. Those children who were separated from their parents range in age from 10 to 17 years old.

Kaine toured the facility and interacted with some of the children there in Spanish. He asked facility staff about how the children were doing, and they confirmed that many of the children who arrive at their facility are traumatized. Based on what Kaine saw on his tour and heard from staff, he said it appeared children at this particular facility are being appropriately cared for. Youth for Tomorrow’s staff told Kaine they are focused on reuniting the children with their families, even as it is unclear whether HHS shares that goal. HHS and DHS haven’t answered Kaine and Warner’s questions about whether children who have been separated from their parents are being sent to other locations in Virginia.

 Kaine issue a statement Friday saying, “The Trump Administration needs to assure us that every single one of the children they separated from their parents is quickly and safely returned to their families. The first step toward that goal is identifying where every child is being held, releasing a list of those facilities, and letting Members of Congress visit all of those locations. I’m thankful that Youth for Tomorrow allowed me to visit today and appreciate the organization’s focus on family reunification. The fact that HHS isn’t being transparent about many other facilities across the country makes me worry about the conditions that many of these kids are facing.”