When the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection appeared at a Washington, D.C., forum the other day to discuss his agency - which was instrumental in the Trump administration’s family separation debacle - the toughest moments he faced came from hecklers, one of whom shouted, “You’re orphaning children! You’re kidnapping children!” Setting aside those interruptions, Commissioner Kevin McAleenan fielded one gentle question after another, never challenged to explain CBP’s role in what a federal judge has characterized as a breakdown in coordination among government agencies that has left hundreds of migrant children stripped from their parents.
It’s not fair to blame the Bipartisan Policy Center, which convened the forum last week with McAleenan; it’s not that group’s mission to hold administration officials accountable. That job falls to Congress, which has largely failed to do it - and is failing now to address the chaotic bungling that resulted in families being separated with no effective system to reliably reunite them.
The statistical fallout from that fiasco is roughly 700 children, about a third of those who were removed from their parents this spring, who remain even now in the custody of the U.S. government rather than with their families. In most of those cases, the parents were deported before they could be reunited with their children. It could be months or years before they are rejoined; some may never be.
Congress under Republican control has been lily-livered when it comes to cracking the whip on Trump and his lieutenants.
In the case of family separations, the hecklers who berated McAleenan were out of line, but their questions - specifically, about whether the U.S. government had made orphans of hundreds of children - were not. That’s among the questions a Congress fulfilling its constitutional role would be asking: how it happened, why it happened and who is responsible.