New Dems Demand Answers at Detention Centers
Over the past few months, the Department of Homeland Security has been separating thousands of families due to the Trump Administration’s decision to criminally prosecute undocumented migrants who try to cross the border, seeking asylum. While awaiting court proceedings, migrants must wait in detention centers that have often been described as “cages.” Amid this crisis, New Democrat Coalition Members visited these sites to speak with children and parents who have been ripped apart by President Donald Trump’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ cruel family separation policy. The Members have shared what they discovered, and what the next steps are to ensure that all families are reunited and that the Trump Administration’s policy comes to an immediate end.
Chair Rep. Jim Himes (CT-04) traveled to a facility in Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s (TX-15) district in McAllen, TX with Vice Chair Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Rep. Anthony Brown (MD-04), Rep. Joe Courtney (CT-02), Rep. Val Demings (FL-10), Rep. Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), and Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02). The group toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station and Centralized Processing Center, and then stopped at the Port Isabel Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center in Los Fresnos. The Members met with families without proper documentation who are currently being held while the United States processes their immigration claims.
Rep. Himes said, “The heartbreaking image of 30 mylar bumps in a holding cage rising up and revealing 30 little girls, many of whom had been crying is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. These are not criminals. These are not the enemy. These are terrified children and we owe them so much more compassion and humanity than we have shown so far.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), and Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-03) were part of another bipartisan delegation that visited a recently opened facility in Tornillo, TX. Rep. Rice said, “Securing our borders is critical, but we can’t do so at the expense of our values. We are not a country that separates families, detains kids in tents or turns our back on those seeking asylum. After spending the day with officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Health & Human Services, and seeing the temporary shelters in Tornillo, one thing is clear: we cannot wait until November to act on immigration. Congress can and should pass a bipartisan solution now. Anyone who’s been here understands the urgency.”
Outside Baltimore, Rep. Don Beyer (VA-08) spoke with fathers who had been separated from their children for months. Per the Washington Post, Rep. Beyer ‘met them at the Anne Arundel Detention Center in Maryland, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold detained immigrants, most of whom are awaiting court proceedings or deportation. An aide to Beyer said the men — identified only as Carlos and Mario — could not clearly explain whether they had been criminally charged with entering the country illegally or were awaiting an asylum proceeding.’ Watch Rep. Beyer share his experience with NowThis.
In San Diego, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16), Rep. Norma Torres (CA-35), and Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51) met with children who are being detained. “The bottom line is the president is now trying to leverage children in order to get his border wall without working on a bipartisan solution,” Rep. Costa said in the Fresno Bee. “As a person, you see these kids and mothers with their children being detained, and your heart goes out to them. This is unacceptable.”
Some policies prevented Members from gaining access to detention facilities in the first place. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) was denied entry to facility in New York by federal authorities. On the other side of the country, Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) also faced similarly difficult challenges when trying to visit the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center. Watch his videos documenting the experience. To address this, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) passed an Appropriations Committee amendment to give Congress access to these facilities and allow Congress to perform its constitutional oversight role. She was then able to visit an immigration detention center in Homestead, FL along with Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09). It is the nation’s second largest shelter, housing 1,179 migrant children, including 70 who have been separated from their families at the U.S. border. Meanwhile, Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24) visited the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to see what entering the U.S. really looks like, before also visiting Tornillo, TX.
Separating families and treating asylum-seekers who come to America the way we currently do is unacceptable and un-American. The current policies and practices implemented along our border have created a devastating humanitarian crisis that must be stopped. While it is important to maintain secure borders, Congress needs to work together now to find lasting immigration solutions that will work to address the situation and ensure innocent children do not get separated from their parents. We must keep families together, and we must continue to be a country that provides opportunity and the American Dream for those who seek it.