Congress continued to focus and debate immigration policy through a series of actions last week. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held two hearing on Wednesday, “Kids in Cages: Inhumane Treatment at the Border” and a hearing, “The Trump Administration’s Child Separation Policy: Substantiated Allegations of Mistreatment” on Friday. In addition there were several bills introduced to assure greater protections for children and families in federal facilities including “Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act” by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the “Protecting Sensitive Locations Act” by Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and the “Alternatives to Detention Act of 2019” by Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and Congressman Anthony Brown (D-MA). Advocates were also attempting to prepare families for potential raid in several large cities across the United States as promised by the President.

On Wednesday, July 10, 2019 the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on treatment at the U.S. border. The focus of the hearing was to examine the President’s deterrence policies at the border and the recent allegations of maltreatment, neglect, and abuse at detention facilities. Witnesses included Michael Breen, President and CEO of Human Rights First, Clara Long Deputy, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, Hope Frye, Executive Director of Project Lifeline, Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, Doctor at Pediatrics Private, Ronald Vitiello, Former Chief of the US Border Patrol, and Yasmin Juarez, asylum seeker who lost her daughter after alleged neglect in a detention center.

The hearing highlighted the growing tensions between politicians regarding families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Asylum seeker Yasmin Juarez began with testimony denouncing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention centers, claiming they are to blame for her daughter’s death. Ms. Juarez, the mother of 19-month old Mariee, claimed that her daughter died shortly after they were released from an ICE detention center where officials failed to treat Mariee when she was ill. Lawyers and advocates echoed Ms. Juarez’s sentiments, stating that the detention centers are now breaking federal and international laws for lengths of stay and horrible living conditions.

Many Committee members agreed with Ms. Juarez, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), “what is being pointed to here is a culture of cruelty” and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), “this administration has criminalized families and is now operating a fundamentally flawed system that is systemically separating families and engaging in human rights abuses on US soil.” Conversely, top Republican Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) stated that it was dishonest to call the detention centers “cages,” and accused Democrats of playing a political game through verbiage and the image of children in cages used to advertise the hearing that was from the Obama era but advertised as an image from Trump’s Administration.

Later last week, on Friday July 12, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform held another hearing on the Administration’s policy with a focus on substantiated allegations of mistreatment. The focus of the briefing was to address the Trump Administration’s family separation policies and the alleged maltreatment, abuse, and neglect at ICE detention centers. The first panel of witnesses included Representatives Escobar, Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Michael Cloud (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Chip Roy. The second panel included advocates and government officials Jennifer Costell, Ann Maxwell, Elora Mukherjee, Jennifer Nagda, and Thomas Homan.

Earlier the Anti-Defamation League has called for the government to act against Trump’s policies, “to ensure that our country stops criminalizing asylum seekers, allows refugees in to our country at levels commensurate with the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and treats those seeking asylum with the humanity and dignity they deserve.” Advocates at the hearing echoed these sentiments, calling for an end to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, changes to ensure that shelters meet state standards, and the promotion of child protection practices.

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez spoke out against the Trump Administration’s policies. She and other representatives recalled their visit to an ICE detention center to properly convey the maltreatment occurring at the border and call for change. Congressman Chip Roy argued that “our own congressional leaders are vilifying the border agents. These are the people holding our front lines.” Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez continued, however, stating that Republicans have created a “manufactured crisis” based on a “policy of dehumanization.”

To express your views to your two senators and member of the House regarding current immigration policies, practices and enforcement go to the CWLA Advocacy Center to send you comments from your smart phone or computer.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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