Editor’s Note: Van Jones is the host of the “The Van Jones Show” and a CNN political commentator. He is the founder and President of Dream Corps. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
If the thousands of migrant children who have been taken from their families are ever to be rejoined with their parents, then President Donald Trump must appoint a “Family Reunification Czar” immediately.
The US government has pulled children away from their parents and shipped these bewildered youngsters all over the country. It is unclear where all of these kids are right now. The parents often don’t know. Although the media has recently been allowed to visit a few facilities, the government refuses to grant the media access to all of the locations where children are being held – including the “tender age” facilities for infants taken from their mothers.
As it stands, many migrant parents have little reassurance that they will quickly find their kids. The mothers and fathers themselves are often poor and non-English speaking; those are two big barriers to navigating the complex bureaucracy in which they find themselves. Even lawyers are struggling to navigate the system well enough to figure out where their clients’ kids are – let alone reunite with them.
There is no high-level, overarching coordinator working to fix these problems – or wring real changes out of the tangle of federal departments, agencies, local governments and private sector service providers that are involved.
There needs to be one person in charge of this effort to put these families back together. And that role cannot be symbolic. This official needs to have an office in the White House, a seasoned staff, interagency authority, a tough timeline and the ability to report directly to the President.
First, the czar must have interagency authority. In other words, he or she must be able to convene all of the relevant departments and agencies – and make them work together.
This is a lot harder than it seems. Many federal bodies are implicated in this crisis, including Health & Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security. Each is a massive bureaucracy unto itself – often with competing interests and little incentive to move quickly or cooperate. Someone has to juggle egos, force compromises and set the tempo.
Second, the czar must have a good staff. There is a process by which a few top people from each of the relevant departments and agencies can be “detailed over” to the White House. These “detail-ees” should be people with sufficient experience to know how to really make things happen back in their home agency or department. Bureaucracies can stymie progress in 1,000 subtle ways. The czar will need staffers who know all the tricks – and the ways around them.
Third, the czar must have a tough deadline – or a series of tough deadlines – to create a sense of urgency among all participants. The migrant kids need their parents – now. Every day of delay is doing irreparable harm to innocent children.
Fourth, the czar must work from the White House and report directly to the president. The knowledge that the czar is a short walk from the Oval Office will enhance his or her authority among all parties.
In conclusion, let me say that I do personally know a little about White House czars. After all, the media dubbed me President Obama’s “green jobs czar” in 2009 – and I hated it. My actual title (“special adviser”) did not carry the powers that one might have assumed a “czar” would possess. But that didn’t stop Obama’s critics on the right from wrongly insisting that Obama had granted extra-constitutional powers to a cabal of shadowy overlords. (He had not.)
The over-hyped brouhaha over “Obama’s czars” left a taint on the concept, in the eyes of some. But there truly are times when a president does need an honest-to-goodness czar, empowered to drive important changes.
And the present crisis is one of those times.