June 27, 2018
I spent Saturday with some of my House colleagues at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. I felt I had to see for myself the impact of President Trump’s family separation policy. I wanted an opportunity to talk with parents and children about what they are enduring and to express my grave concerns directly to federal officials.
We started at the Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, where individuals detained at the border are first sent. This is the place where 15-foot high chain-link fences are used to contain children and adults – you may have seen the widely published photos. Detainees are held in 4 large “pods”. Two pods were reserved for unaccompanied children, one for boys and another for girls. The other two were reserved for adults and adults with children. Approximately 300 detainees were present when we visited. I was struck by an open box of diapers, clear evidence that some of the detainees are mere babies.
We were told that most detainees spend only a few days at the processing facility before being sent to other locations around the country. We had many pointed questions for officials there, who have been carrying out this cruel and indefensible policy. The answers I received weren’t even close to satisfactory.
We went next to the McAllen Border Patrol Station and Intake Facility where federal officials monitor border crossings and detain anyone they believe is attempting to enter the country illegally. This facility resembles a municipal jail – all cement, locked doors, and a central monitor station. Detainees here were also separated and held by group. We were told detainees usually spend only a few hours here before being sent to the processing facility described above. However, the area had recently suffered severe flooding which impacted travel and delayed their transfer. As a result, some detainees had been held there much longer – with no cots or mats to sleep on, just a hard, cold cement floor.
I expressed in the strongest possible terms my concern that families are being separated with little thought given to reunification. This is beyond unacceptable. It inflicts needless pain on innocent people. In simple terms, it is evil.
Our fact-finding mission ended at the Port Isabel ICE Detention Center. I talked with parents who have no idea where their children have been sent. They expressed fear and anger, sharing details of their journey to the United States and their worries over what will happen to their families now. Lots of tears were shed.
I saw children in cages, looking scared and disoriented. I had an opportunity to speak to some of the children, and it touched me deeply, as a father and a citizen. They are terrified and confused. There is no doubt that these innocent minors will suffer lifelong consequences from the trauma of separation. And there is no doubt that the government of the United States deliberately and needlessly caused their suffering.
Some of the overriding impressions I came away with include the following. Our government had no plan to initiate this new “zero tolerance” policy. Our government has no thoughtful plan on how to end the policy. The detainees I saw were poverty stricken and did not speak English. They were terrified and confused. Many did not know where their children were. Some knew where their children were being held but had not spoken to them in quite a while. None had any idea of when they might reunite with their children.
We learned a particularly infuriating detail from detainees about communication. Although we were repeatedly told that detainees could call their children, the process of doing is was broken. To start, many detainees didn’t know where their children were. Some had trouble accessing a phone. Others said they had to pay for the call – but didn’t have any money in their “prison account”, so they couldn’t even contact someone to ask that funds be deposited for them. Keep in mind, the detainees are coming from abject poverty – they are some of the poorest people in the western hemisphere. Is it a surprise they cannot afford a phone call?
We also learned that many of the children crossing the border unaccompanied are told to look for the “green uniform”, which is worn by CBP personnel. The reason they are given this information is because their loved ones think they will be taken care of. Instead, they are being imprisoned.
I have returned more determined than ever to fight for the reunification of every family. I am working along with my travel companions to draft legislation to address the issues we identified. To be clear, legislation will take time and will be difficult to pass in the Republican-controlled Congress.
I also listened closely to the Border Patrol and ICE officers we met. Most are local people of Hispanic descent who speak fluent Spanish. They are not unmoved by this situation. Those of us who are trying to address this debacle will do well to remember that the problem starts and ends in Washington D.C. with Donald Trump.
Donald Trump created this crisis on his own and we are obligated to force him to fix it. What has happened to these children is nothing short of child abuse – state sponsored child abuse which every decent American should take action to end.
It is a sad chapter in American history, but I am convinced that we can change it and find ways to make sure it never happens again. I look forward to seeing many of you protesting and rallying as we continue our push to right this horrendous wrong.