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July 07, 2019

No More Excuses from Administration on Border Facility Conditions

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General issued its latest alert on severe overcrowding, prolonged detention, and unlawful conditions in Border Patrol facilities, this time in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Of the 8,000 people in Border Patrol custody in the area, 2,669 were children. Dozens of unaccompanied children under the age of seven had languished in custody for two weeks or more. At the majority of the facilities, the children had no access to showers, limited access to clothes, and no access to the kinds of meals required by legal standards and common decency toward kids.

No matter your political affiliation or views on border security, seeing families and children, including very young children, in overcrowded and unsafe conditions should shock the conscience. 

Those of us who have visited border stations were not surprised, however. We have witnessed people being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in squalid conditions under a bridge, mothers and children sleeping outdoors on dirt and gravel with nothing more than a foil blanket to cover them, and kids being held in a hot garage while nearby a new, air-conditioned structure sat completely empty.  Unbelievably, this is happening even after several children have died in Federal custody.

While incompetence is rife in this Administration, including at the Department of Homeland Security, there is clearly more at play here. Since taking office, President Trump and his Administration have ignored the rule of law and thrown well established norms out the window in order to push their anti-immigrant agenda. It’s not only Stephen Miller and his ilk. Leaders at DHS have offered repeated denials when confronted with the terrible and even unlawful conditions that children and families face in custody. 

Late last month, Congress provided an additional $4.5 billion to DHS and its Federal partners to address the humanitarian crisis at the border. There was never any legitimate reason to hold people in these conditions, but the time for excuses is over.

While resources are critical, the humanitarian crisis will continue if the Administration does not change its policies.  Separating families at the border was not only anathema to any decent person, it was ineffective as the deterrent the White House hoped it would be. Blocking people from seeking asylum at ports of entry only forced people around the ports of entry, creating a disorderly process out of what could have been an orderly one. Focusing on building a border wall that does nothing to stop people from seeking asylum is a waste of taxpayer money, especially when resources are needed elsewhere. In short, the Trump Administration’s border policies have been an abject failure so far, and it is past time for a new approach.

First, the Department of Homeland Security must address conditions at the border, particularly for children and families. Treating vulnerable people humanely is not being weak on border security; it is being strong in upholding our American values.

Second, the Administration needs to expand key parts of our border and immigration system, by hiring additional Customs and Border Protection officers to process people and trade at ports of entry and more immigration judges to expand the immigration court system.

Third, the Administration needs to engage Central American countries effectively about addressing the conditions prompting people to leave their countries and implementing viable solutions. Sending Department leadership to meet with Northern Triangle governments while cutting off assistance for programs meant to stem the flow of people is counterproductive to say the least. Creating a process whereby some people could apply for visas to come to the U.S. while still in their home countries could help address our shared challenges.

Finally, the Administration needs to put proven, permanent leadership in place at the Department of Homeland Security. The continual upheaval at the Department and its components makes it nearly impossible to operate DHS effectively and undermines transparency and accountability regarding what is happening at the border.

More remains to be done, but these would be good first steps. Congress has provided the resources. The question now is whether President Trump and the leadership at DHS will do what’s right. Time will tell.

-          Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman, House Committee on Homeland Security

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Media contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978

By:  Chairman Thompson
Source: Medium