August 20, 2018 Press Release

Watchdog Group Calls on Congress to Hold Trump Administration Accountable for Family Separation Crisis in Letter to Energy and Commerce Committee

Equity Forward:  Congress Must Demand HHS Chief Azar and ORR Director Lloyd Testify in Oversight Hearing

08.20.18 – Equity Forward Action continued to call on Congress to hold the Trump administration accountable for the implementation of its cruel and inhumane “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in thousands of children being ripped from their families in a letter sent today to Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  When the letter was sent, 565 children had yet to be returned to their families and remain detained by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which is housed within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).    

“Shirking responsibility when it comes to holding those accountable for the child separation crisis is simply unacceptable,” said Mary Alice Carter, Executive Director of Equity Forward Action.  

“As troubling allegations of physical and sexual abuse continue to surface at ORR facilities, it’s imperative that Chairman Walden, Representative McMorris Rodgers, and the majority members of the Energy and Commerce Committee use their strong oversight authority to investigate the conditions where children are being detained as well as the reasons for delay in reuniting families.  

“Making excuses for their lack of meaningful action won’t do anything to remedy reports of appalling abuse or determine why agencies weren’t prepared to care for the children ripped from their families.  Holding HHS Chief Azar and ORR Director Lloyd accountable is not only the right thing to do, but also the duty of the committee and Equity Forward Action demands swift and thorough action from those in authority.”

Although Chairman Walden is tasked with oversight of governmental agencies like HHS and ORR and has been called on by his Democratic colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee to host Congressional  hearings, the committee has not held one hearing and conducted minimal oversight of HHS and ORR during the crisis.  

Today’s letter from Equity Forward Action was also sent to Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, not only as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, but also in her capacity as Chair of the House Republican Conference.  Today’s letter comes ten days after Equity Forward Action launched a six-figure television ad buy in Eastern Washington state calling on McMorris Rodgers to hold the Trump administration accountable for the family separation crisis.  Despite the ad buy and the fact that half of her constituents say she has not done enough on the family separation crisis, McMorris Rodgers continues to dodge her responsibility as the fourth highest ranking member of the House of Representatives.

This Congressional inaction from the Energy and Commerce Committee is particularly worrisome considering the facilities where children in ORR custody are detained are coming under scrutiny following reports of dangerous and shocking conditions, including allegations of physical and sexual abuse; neither HHS Secretary Alex Azar nor ORR Director Scott Lloyd have provided adequate transparency or accountability in the face of these allegations.  Additionally, there are serious questions over ORR Director Lloyd’s competence and whether he has the experience necessary to handle this crisis.

Specifically, the letter calls for Chairman Walden to use his authority to: host an oversight hearing in which HHS Secretary Azar and Director Lloyd are required to testify on their respective roles in the crisis and be held accountable for the allegations of severe abuse at ORR facilities; work with fellow Committee Members to launch a bipartisan investigation into the planning, implementation and impact of the child separation crisis; hold field hearings in communities across the country to solicit input from the public on the issue; make available any documents provided to the Energy and Commerce Committee, especially since HHS has consistently failed to comply with FOIA laws in addition to many constituent and reporter inquiries.

Equity Forward last month launched a seven-figure ad campaign to urge Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities over HHS Secretary Azar and ORR Director Lloyd.  The campaign is part of Equity Forward’s “HHS Watch,” a project to promote transparency and accountability at the Department of Health and Human Services.