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House Democrats today blasted the Trump administration for separating thousands of migrant families at the border last year in their first of a series of hearings investigating the controversial policy. During the Thursday hearing, which focuses on the health department's care for the separated children, Democrats attacked the policy as inhumane and faulted health officials for not opposing it. "There is no evidence that HHS leaders ever tried to stop this abhorrent policy," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), chair of the Energy and Commerce's oversight subcommittee, which called the hearing. "As the agency dedicated to the health and welfare of children, we need to know why." The "zero-tolerance" policy, which the administration abandoned last summer, was originally crafted by the Department of Homeland Security and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The HHS refugee office took custody of the separated children but didn't have a role in setting the separation policy. HHS Secretary Alex Azar declined committee requests to testify at the hearing. Jonathan White, an HHS career civil servant who worked to reunify the separated families, defended HHS' efforts in his opening statement. HHS assistant inspector general Ann Maxwell — who helped lead a review that found that "thousands" more children may have been separated by the Trump administration than previously known — testified that some HHS officials raised questions about whether the count of separated children was accurate. The Trump administration reportedly implemented the policy last year to deter border crossings. Public health experts have warned that the forcible family separations likely caused lasting trauma to the children. Republicans on the committee stressed they opposed the family separation policy and joined Democrats in raising questions when news about separations broke last summer. "While I support strong enforcement of the nation's borders, I want to make something very clear: I support keeping families together," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the Energy and Commerce Committee's top Republican. Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine