Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico called for changes in the care of migrant children in U.S. custody during a hearing Tuesday with other Democratic federal lawmakers.
“With every passing day we hear more reports of inhumane and degrading treatment of children and families in Customs and Border Protection facilities along the border. This administration is violating basic human rights,” Udall said at the start of the hearing.
During the more than two-hour hearing in Washington, also led by Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., legal and medical experts with experience on the border testified.
“Families should not be separated nor do they belong in cages,” said Imelda Maynard, senior attorney at Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico. Maynard provides legal services for asylum-seekers including migrant families sent back to Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings under the Migrant Protection Protocol. Maynard said the policy should be called the “migrant persecution protocol” and told senators that migrants “are often beaten, robbed, kidnapped and raped and some have been killed.”
Other witnesses testified about conditions for children in U.S. custody including crowded Border Patrol holding stations or Health and Human Services facilities where they are “warehoused” rather than reunited quickly with relatives in the U.S.
“There is absolutely no reason to detain anyone who is not a danger to the public for weeks and months in overcrowded substandard facilities that endanger the health and safety of migrants and the government employees who work in these facilities,” said Michelle Brané, policy expert at the Women’s Refugee Commission.
Brané said the administration should use alternatives to detention to manage migrants waiting for immigration court hearings. She said the cancelled Family Case Management Program was a cost effective alternative and “ICE’s own close out report found that over 99% of participants complied with immigration court hearings and ICE check-in appointments.” The program, which connected asylum-seekers to legal representation and guided them through the court system, was created in 2016, but the Trump administration cancelled it “abruptly” in June 2017 according to Brané.
The Democratic senators said they held the hearing “America Speaks Out: Stop Trump’s Cruel Treatment of Children at the Border” because senate Republicans will not do so.
“I think it’s pretty shameful that Republicans in this body are refusing to work with us to address the root causes of this crisis,” Heinrich said. “We, as a Congress, should do everything we can to hold this administration accountable for flouting our nation’s laws and our American values.”
The senators have introduced legislation to help ensure humane and safe conditions and treatment for people in CBP custody. The Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act, S. 2135, would require CBP to meet the basic health and medical needs of people in its care by conducting health screenings and delivering emergency care; providing humane short-term detention conditions; and ensuring access to adequate water, nutrition and sanitation.