Alex Azar is in charge of caring for the immigrant children separated from their parents, but the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services had more pressing matters this weekend, as the crisis reached its peak: his college reunion.
The Trump cabinet member has come under fire for the policy that he defended and his department oversaw, especially as child health experts pointed out how potentially damaging the separation can be to young children. Azar is in charge of caring for the children and making sure they are reunited with their parents. Now, a report from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has Azar even more in the crosshairs.
Maddow reported that Azar left this weekend to attend his college reunion at Dartmouth University, at the same time pictures were emerging showing young children huddled together in chain-link cages.
Though Donald Trump bowed to increasing pressure this week and reversed his administration’s policy, many members who had defended the practice were still under fire. This includes Azar, who echoed other cabinet members in saying that the policy was meant as a deterrent to people crossing the U.S. border.
“Nobody has ever desired to separate families. If you are arrested, your kids aren’t going to be with you. If you want to remain with your children, don’t come across the border illegally,” Azar said, via The Hill. “Present yourself at a legal border crossing, make your case if you have a case to make… don’t come across illegally because you’ll be separated from your children.”
Azar also bragged that politicians who toured the facilities were impressed with the level of care given to children. But several lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans alike, have decried the conditions, with some comparing them to concentration camps.
Azar was also accused of blocking access to the detention centers that house the children, especially those holding girls and the so-called “tender age” facilities where babies and toddlers are sent.
Some of the pressure may be off Azar, at least for the time being. Under Donald Trump’s new executive order, children will be able to remain with their parents when they are detained and sent to detention centers operated by the Department of Homeland Security, not Department of Health and Human Services.
Alex Azar’s decision to attend his college reunion amid the height of the crisis drew comparisons to Michael Brown, the FEMA director under George Bush, who was criticized for his department’s slow reaction to Hurricane Katrina. As CNN reported, an investigation later showed that as the crisis was reaching a peak and thousands of people dying, Brown took the time to joke in emails about wanting to quit and discussed mundane topics like finding a dog-sitter while he was called out to the crisis.
Alex Azar has not commented publicly on the reports that he left the child immigrant separation crisis to attend his college reunion.