The Trump administration has so far separated more than 2,000 undocumented children, including infants and toddlers, from their parents at the border. And the man leading the department responsible for these kids’ health and safety has almost no experience working with refugees and migrants.
Under Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, Border Patrol must prosecute any adult attempting to cross the border without authorization and house them in federal jails. Those jails can’t accommodate kids — so, after three days, Homeland Security officials must hand separated children over to the custody of shelters operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, run by Scott Lloyd.
Lloyd first took over that office in March 2017, after a White House official tapped him for the job, he said in court records. The pick was an unusual one: Much of Lloyd’s career has focused on crusading against abortion, not resettling migrants.
What’s more, Lloyd hasn’t spoken publicly since early April, according to a tally by the reproductive health group Equity Forward. That’s roughly when the Trump administration implemented its policy, which effectively splits up families.
Despite his claims that the family separations could only be stopped by a Congressional action, Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that continues the “zero tolerance” policy but keeps families detained together. And it’s still unclear what will happen to the children who remain in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
That agency, once an obscure organization tucked away in the Department of Health and Human Services, has, in the past several days, become the subject of reports about overseeing facilities full of crying infants, forcibly injecting children with drugs, and housing kids in a temporary “tent city” in the South Texas desert. As of Tuesday, 11,786 kids were living in more than 100 shelters operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement across 17 states. (Most of these kids were separated at the border, whereas the rest crossed into the country without parents.)
Before joining the Trump administration, Lloyd spent years working as an attorney for Legalworks Apostolate, a Virginia law firm that describes itself as “counsel for a culture of life,” and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, according to a copy of Lloyd’s resume. While at the Knights, Lloyd worked as a lawyer in the public policy office and advocated for state-level abortion restrictions.
Lloyd did appear to get some pertinent experience to his role at the Office of Refugee Resettlement while working for the Knights of Columbus: He travelled to Iraq three times to work with Christians fleeing ISIS persecution, according to his resume. Lloyd also contributed to a report titled “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” that the Knights of Columbus submitted to then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2016. His government profile characterizes his work on the issue as “policy advocacy.”
A spokesperson for the Administration of Children and Families, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, declined to answer several emailed questions about Lloyd’s work experience.
Lloyd’s predecessor, Robert Carey, however, led the Office of Refugee Resettlement during the Obama administration after spending decades working in refugee and migrant issues; his own predecessor was a refugee, Carey said.
“I was a bit surprised that they were hiring someone with no background in any of the issues that the office works on,” Carey said of Lloyd. “I gather that’s not unheard-of in this, or other, administrations. But I was still a bit surprised, because this is a sensitive area. It’s an area where there’s been a lot of concern about the care of refugees and migrants.”
Then again, Carey added, maybe the Trump administration didn’t have many options to head the office, considering its intent to curtail the country’s refugee program.
“Why do you think it was important for her to know her baby, if born in the United States, would be a U.S. citizen?”
Lloyd has also written several articles arguing against abortion. He suggested that birth control leads to more abortions, that state lawmakers should mandate women must ask for (and receive) men’s permission before seeking abortions, and that women who rely on birth control provided through a government family-planning program be banned from receiving abortions.
In a Congressional hearing, Washington Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal asked Lloyd whether he believed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion depended on her immigration status. After some back and forth, Lloyd replied, “Well, my answer is that any number of rights depend on where they stand in terms of our immigration system.”
“I do not understand that answer. Is that a yes or a no?” Jayapal shot back. “I’ll take that as a no. So do you believe that immigrants have constitutional rights?”
“Once again, ma’am,” Lloyd said, “if somebody wants to come into the United States and enjoy full — ”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Jayapal cut him off.
Lloyd’s opposition to abortion first helped propel the Office of Refugee Resettlement to the national stage. In October, an undocumented 17-year-old immigrant in Texas — held in the same type of facility that now houses children separated from their parents — sued the administration over its refusal to let her get an abortion. Court records later showed that Lloyd had instituted a policy that required him to personally sign off on any request for abortion made by a minor in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s care.
In a deposition with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lloyd struggled to think of a single scenario in which he would sign off on such a request. Last December, Lloyd refused to grant the request of a teen who’d became pregnant through rape, according to court documents. At one point, Lloyd also personally spoke with a minor considering having an abortion. In another instance, Lloyd told his staff to inform a pregnant minor that if she continued her pregnancy, her child would become a U.S. citizen, according to the deposition with the ACLU.
“Why do you think it was important for her to know her baby, if born in the United States, would be a U.S. citizen?” Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, asked during the deposition.
“I don't know,” Lloyd told her. “It's just good information to have.”
Ultimately, a total of four teens joined the lawsuit against the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which alleged that the Trump administration had sought to stop each of their abortions. In March, a federal judge issued a sweeping preliminary injunction in the case, which forbade anyone at the agency from interfering in immigrant teens’ ability to get abortions.
Cover image: Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill, October 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)