Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján traveled from Washington, D.C., to Brownsville, Texas, near the Mexican border, on Monday to check on migrant children being housed in government shelters.
Luján said what he saw disturbed him, even though the staff seemed compassionate.
The New Mexico Democrat told the Journal on Tuesday that he and a delegation of congressional members from several states visited the Casa Padre and Casa Presidente shelters in Brownsville. Some of the children there had crossed the border by themselves, while others were separated from their families.
Luján said the delegation was told not to speak with any of the children at the sites.
“It was made clear to me … that Health and Human Services and ORR – the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement – had said we were not allowed to talk to the children, which really upset me,” Luján said. “Why is it they don’t want you to talk to the children? What don’t they want the children telling you? I imagine Health and Human Services is worried about something, and that is wrong.”
Both Casa Presidente and Casa Padre are operated by the not-for-profit Southwest Key under contract with the federal government.
Casa Padre is a former WalMart, store converted with drywall partitions, that is holding about 1,450 minor boys, roughly ages 10-17. All are unaccompanied minors.
The congressman described “small rooms that had … bunk beds.”
“They weren’t enclosed from the top,” he said. “They were walls inside a warehouse.”
Casa Presidente is former hospital housing boys and girls under 12 years old, pregnant minors and new mothers who have given birth since arriving there. It housed 85 children, about half of whom were unaccompanied minors and half of whom were separated from their families by the federal government.
Luján said at Casa Presidente he briefly interacted with two infants — an 8- or 9-month-old named Roger and a 1-year-old named Lea. Staff members told the congressman the children had been separated from their parents.
“All the staff that we spoke to … seemed very compassionate; but these are kids that are torn away from their families,” Luján said.
Luján challenged President Donald Trump to make a similar trek to the Texas border and hold one of the children himself.
“If there’s a little something left in the president’s heart, if he maybe embraced one of these babies, it might help him make the right decision and end these policies of separating babies from their moms,” Lujan said.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both New Mexico Democrats, plan to visit the site of the temporary tent city for migrant children in Tornillo, Texas, on Friday, as well as the port of entry in El Paso. That evening, the senators, who have called on Trump to end his family separation policy immediately, will hold a Keep Families Together community event in Las Cruces.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect which facility houses which group of migrant children.