Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) handed down an impassioned rebuke of the Trump administration’s migrant child separation policy during Matthew Whitaker’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
The acting attorney general appeared stunned as the congresswoman grilled him on the “zero humanity” border policy and how it affected the children.
Jayapal asked him whether the Department of Justice kept track of the migrant parents who were separated from their children by border officials.
“There’s only one answer to this,” Jayapal reminded Whitaker. “It’s gone through the courts.”
When Whitaker said he didn’t believe the Justice Department was tracking separated parents, the congresswoman replied, “You were not tracking it. That is the correct answer.”
As Jayapal continued, her voice grew louder: “Your department was not tracking parents who were separated from their children. Do you know what kind of damage has been done to children and families across this country?”
“Children who will never get to see their parents again,” she added. “Do you understand the magnitude of that?”
Whitaker expressed his appreciation for Jayapal’s “passion for this issue,” but the congresswoman cut him off.
“This is about more than my passion. This is about the children’s future, Mr. Whitaker,” she told him before running out of time.
During his testimony, Whitaker told Jayapal that the Justice Department didn’t have a family separation policy but a zero tolerance policy ― a point that has been disproved.
The zero-tolerance policy required officers to separate families who illegally crossed the border so that parents could be placed in jail. As a result, more than 2,600 children were detained separately, though a report by government inspectors released in January suggests that the number may be closer to 3,000.
In the face of public scrutiny, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June to end family separation.
Jayapal met with 174 migrant women at a federal detention center in Seattle in June, spending nearly three hours with them. According to the congresswoman, most of the women came to the U.S. to seek asylum, and more than one-third of the women were separated from their children, some as young as 1 year old.
Jayapal told Whitaker on Friday that she refers to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy as the “zero humanity policy” and described to him what she saw when she visited those who were detained.
“Many of them had not even been able to say goodbye to their children,” Jayapal said. “They sat in the room next door as they heard their children yelling for them. And for weeks they didn’t know where their children were.”