[Audio follows story] (KCPW News) A senate committee on Friday debated a resolution urging the federal government to end the practice of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The resolution also called for federal policymakers to act to reunite children who have already been separated.
Salt Lake Democratic Sen. Gene Davis said his proposal was about representing Utah family and legal values to Washington.
“As a long time member of the Child Welfare Oversight Committee, I believe that is our position as a state is to keep families together,” he said.
“Only when the child is in harm, or in harm’s way, should we intervene to separate the parents from their child – and the government should always afford a parent full due process rights when the government removes a child from a parent for any substantial period of time,” Sen. Davis said.
The Trump Administration practice of separating children from their families as part of what it called a “zero tolerance” policy came into sharp focus in May and June of 2018 after reporting showed that thousands of children had been removed from family members.
On Friday, in a meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Davis’s resolution was met with skepticism by Cedar City Republican Sen. Evan Vickers, who said he wasn’t certain whether to believe the news that children were being separated or not.
“My problem is it stems from some of these news stories [and] I’m just not sure that they’re valid,” Vickers said.
“I don’t know what is valid and what’s not; what’s truth and what’s not – and so I’m struggling trying to trying to poke an eye at the administration if I don’t have all the data and all the facts that I can really confidently say ‘yeah, you did wrong, and we need to correct it,'” he said.
A report last month by the inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services (the agency responsible for migrant children who are separated from their guardians) showed that bad bookkeeping meant it was impossible to say just how many children were separated because there had been no systematic process for identifying or tracking children, or for reuniting children with their families.
Bill Cosgrove a Utah pediatrician speaking as a representative of the Utah Chapter for the American Academy of Pediatrics told the committee that the family separation practice was inhumane.
“Forcible separation of a child from their parent is equivalent to torture [according to] the scientific research,” he said.
Stephanie Burdick, who said she was speaking as a member of the public, supported the resolution, and drew a parallel between Mormon pioneers who came to Utah fleeing persecution, and modern-day immigrants. She also said that protecting the family should be a priority for Utahns.
“We understand why the family is such an important part of our community: it’s the fundamental unit of society,” she said.
In June, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement condemning the family separation policy.
“The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children,” the statement said.
“We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families.”
After public testimony, Democratic Senator Luz Escamilla made a motion to advance Senator Davis’s resolution with a favorable recommendation. Instead, all of the Republican members of the committee voted to adjourn without further discussion.
Senator Davis said he hoped to get the bill on the agenda for a future meeting of the committee.
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