Scott Lloyd, the Trump appointee once in charge of caring for unaccompanied migrant children, told Congress Tuesday that he never cautioned the Trump administration that separating families at the border could leave children with potentially lifelong damage to their health.
The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Tuesday regarding the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, which split thousands of children from their families. During the hearing, Rep. Pramila Jayapal asked Lloyd, “Did you ever say to the administration, ‘This is a bad idea. Here’s what my child welfare experts have told us. We need to stop this policy’? Did you once say that to anybody above you?”
“To answer your question, I did not say those words,” Lloyd told the California Democrat.
Until last fall, Lloyd served as the head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is tasked with reuniting separated children. During the same hearing, Jonathan White, a career official who previously worked as the deputy director of children’s programs at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said he warned Lloyd and other officials against separating families — repeatedly.
“I raised concerns about that both as regards to the effect on children and also the effect on the capacity of the program to serve children, and particularly very young children,” testified White, who sat next to Lloyd. “I raised those issues on a number of occasions primarily prior to Mr. Lloyd’s arrival and also after his arrival.”
White, who is also a clinical social worker, said it was February 2017 when he first told officials that he was worried about any policy that would separate families. Once the agency started receiving reports that families were being split up at the border, in late summer 2017, White once again raised concerns.
At that point, though, “It was our understanding that there was no policy to affect separations,” White said.
In early February, White also told Congress during testimony that he finally learned that family separations were, indeed, going on when he saw it on TV. He ended up helping lead reunification efforts.
For months, congressional lawmakers and activists have sought to make Lloyd, who now works at an office that handles faith-based initiatives within the Department of Health and Human Services, speak about his role in the family separation crisis. On the infrequent occasions on which Lloyd spoke at all during the Tuesday hearing, he spoke quietly and often fumbled when attempting to clarify how the Office of Refugee Resettlement was tracking separated families or how the office prepared for the policy.
At one point, after questioning from Jayapal, Lloyd said, “I never directed anybody to not plan,” Lloyd said. “We — ”
“You didn’t direct anybody to not plan,” Japayal interrupted, “and you didn’t direct anybody to plan — ”
“That’s not true. That’s not true,” Lloyd said, though he didn’t explain as Jayapal kept speaking.
At another point, Jayapal asked Lloyd, “When Commander White, as a child welfare expert, warned you about the cruel consequences of family separation, were you concerned? Yes or no is fine.”
“I accepted what he told me,” Lloyd said.
“So you were concerned?”
“He reported what the consequences would be, and I listened to him,” Lloyd replied.
Cover image: Senior adviser for Department of Health and Human Services Scott Lloyd testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on the Trump administration's separation policy involving migrant families on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)