June 26, 2018 Press Release

Watchdog Sues HHS for Documents Related to Separated Children at the Border; Launches Ad Campaign

HHS has dodged responsibility; refuses to comply with public records laws

06.26.18 – Today, watchdog group Equity Forward sued the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for public records related to the department’s facilitation and support for the Trump Administration’s policy that separated children from their families at the border.

The suit comes after HHS failed to substantively respond to four Equity Forward Freedom of Information Act Requests (FOIA) filed beginning in January 2018, and also failed to respond to a separate request sent directly to Secretary Alex Azar for information on HHS’ involvement in Trump’s family separations. Equity Forward is currently suing HHS over several FOIAs, including one where the agency claimed it will need 28 years to comply with a simple request.

“Separating children from their families at the border is inhumane and cruel, and HHS has refused to show transparency with the decision making that has affected the lives of thousands of children and their families,” said Equity Forward executive director Mary Alice Carter. “The public deserves to know how HHS’ senior leaders conducted themselves leading up to the manufactured crisis our country is now experiencing. HHS has refused to come forward and say what happened, so we’re going to court to get the information.”

Since January, Equity Forward has filed four FOIA requests requesting the following materials:

  • Schedules for Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Scott Lloyd and other HHS officials involved with separated children
  • Lloyd’s communications concerning an array of ORR activity, including the potential housing of separated children on military bases  
  • Correspondence between Lloyd and outside groups that may have influenced the treatment of children in his care

As part of the effort to hold HHS accountable for its actions, today Equity Forward launched an advertising campaign with full page ads in the Washington, DC area in The New York Times, POLITICO and Northern Virginia Daily. The ads highlight that Scott Lloyd, the agency’s point person on separated children, hasn’t been seen or heard from since early April and has failed to publicly present a plan to reunify separated families.

To date, Equity Forward has filed more than 70 FOIA requests – all of which HHS failed to address within statutory requirements. The suit filed today marks the fifth lawsuit filed to hold HHS accountable for its failures to comply with federal open records laws. Read the complaint HERE.

Read more about our work HERE.