Engel, Torres, Espaillat Introduce Legislation to Keep Central American Families Together

Lawmakers Require State Department to Support Reunifying Parents and Children and to Address Root Causes of Violence

June 22, 2018

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Central America Caucus; and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), a member of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, today introduced legislation that rejects the Trump Administration’s cruel decision to separate children from their parents and requires the State Department to play a robust role in reuniting these families. The Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act, introduced with 50 additional cosponsors, also brings much-needed attention to the violence, rape, sex trafficking, and femicide affecting the brave women, men, and children whose families President Trump chose to tear apart.

“The consequences of President Trump’s heartless decision to separate children from their parents will have repercussions for many years to come. The Trump Administration has a moral obligation to reunite these traumatized families and also to address the root causes that pushed these people to make their dangerous journey. Women and children are fleeing unimaginably difficult conditions with domestic violence and rape far too often the norm. Our legislation will facilitate family reunification in the short term while addressing the longer-term challenges facing our friends in Central America,” said Rep. Engel.

“The world has watched with outrage and horror as the Trump Administration ripped babies and toddlers out of the arms of their parents and placed them in cages. The supposed justification for this cruel policy was that splitting up families would deter them from coming to the U.S. in the first place,” said Rep. Torres. “What the Trump Administration never considered is the depth of the violence and terror that boys and girls and their parents are fleeing in Central America. This bill will force the Administration to tell the truth about what is happening in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. I thank my friend Representative Engel, a tireless advocate on behalf of women and girls everywhere, for leading this effort.”

“It remains critical that we continue our work and collaboration with the respective governments of Central America and Embassies in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to ensure adequate oversight in our efforts to reunite the children separated from their families under President Trump’s reckless and horrific ‘zero tolerance’ policy,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat. “I am glad to join my colleagues, Congressman Engel and Congresswoman Norma Torres, in introducing the Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act, which would help us accomplish our goals to protect individuals from violence, sex trafficking, and other life-threatening situations plaguing Central American countries, while also support efforts to reunite families torn apart under the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. Families, regardless of where they were born, belong together.”   

The legislation has won the support of numerous organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), International Rescue Committee, Church World Service, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Futures without Violence, Women’s Refugee Commission, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center, HIAS, American Jewish World Service, Jewish Women International, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Migrants, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law, and Human Rights First.

“KIND applauds this critical legislation that will address the extreme sex and gender based violence, with a particular emphasis on the scourge of gang based violence against children, a significant push factor contributing to the migrant crisis,” said Wendy Young, President of Kids in Need of Defense.

“We are grateful to Representatives Engel, Torres, and Espaillat for their quick action towards reuniting families and shining a light on the gender-based violence that causes families to flee their homes. Our clients—who navigated the tough journey from violence to the United States in the hope that that their families would be safe here—should get nothing less than a fair hearing about why they fled and reunion with their children and families,” said Michelle Lapointe, Acting Deputy Legal Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Specifically, the Central America Family Protection and Reunification Act does the following:

  • Requires the State Department—through our embassies in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—to prioritize supporting governments and citizens of these countries to facilitate immediate family reunification. This means working with Central American governments and citizens to help them locate their children and be reunited with them immediately. The bill also obligates the Secretary of State to report to Congress on implementation of this policy.


  • Requires reporting from the State Department on gender-based violence in the Northern Triangle countries, including violence against indigenous women, and the challenges to successfully prosecuting perpetrators. This information will be useful for Congress, the courts and the public in rejecting Attorney General Sessions’s absurd claim that domestic violence should not be grounds for asylum.


  • Requires the Secretary of State to develop a strategy for reducing gender-based violence in the Northern Triangle. This strategy will be developed in coordination with the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, and the President of the Inter-American Foundation.


  • Requires reporting on gang- and organized-crime-related violence in the Northern Triangle with a particular focus on violence against children. It further requires reporting on the ability of authorities in these countries to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.


  • Creates an Office of Victims of Crime Committed against Individuals Removed from the United States at the State Department. This office will study serious crimes committed against individuals deported by the Trump Administration to the Northern Triangle.


  • Requires the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to address the psychosocial and health impact that the Trump family separation policy will have on Central American children. In coordination with the USAID Administrator, the Secretary of State will be required to develop a strategy to provide targeted assistance to address the long-term impact of family separation on children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

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