One week ago, on Father’s Day, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas with my colleague, Senator Merkley, to investigate the reports of children being forcibly separated from their parents. What I witnessed confirmed my worst fears about the Trump Administration's cruel and inhumane family separation policy.
Our first stop was the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen – the center that is locally known as the “dog kennel” for the large pens of chain-link fencing that separately hold men, women, and children. We were not allowed to talk to the children, but we did talk to a mother named Reina – who had fled Guatemala with her daugher after local gangs threatened to kill them both. Reina's daughter was taken from her at the Center and she had no idea where she was. She feared that she would never see her daughter again.
After this stop, we traveled to the Hidalgo Port of Entry – a bridge that spans the Rio Grande, where asylum-seekers should be allowed to cross legally and safely into the United States to have their claims processed. However, the pedestrian crossing had been effectively closed to people seeking asylum. Local volunteers informed us that two weeks earlier asylum seekers had been left stranded on the bridge for days without food and water. Not surprisingly, they gave up and many then sought to cross the river in boats, only to be arrested and have their children taken from them.
Our next stop was a former Walmart super-store that has been converted into the Children’s Facility in Brownsville. This facility houses over 1,200 boys ages ten and up. Although we were able to tour the facility, Trump Administration officials refused to let us speak with the children. While it’s clear that the employees at this Center were doing their best to care for these children, the place was crammed and overflowing with boys as the Trump Administration was separating more and more kids from their parents.
Our last stop of the day was the Port Isabel ICE Detention Center. At the Detention Center, I heard gut-wrenching testimony from ten women in their blue prison jumpsuits who had fled extreme violence in Central America only to be arrested and have their children taken away from them when they reached the United States. These women were completely distraught over the possibility that they may never be reunited with their children.
In the days following our trip, people in Maryland and in every state have risen up to condemn this shameful policy. And, because of the outcry, President Trump finally bent to public pressure to reverse his despicable child separation policy. But our work is not done.
This new Executive Order does nothing to reunite the children who have already been taken from their parents. We have reports of children in Maryland as young as 18 months old who have been forcibly taken from their parents, and we cannot rest until these families are back together. The Executive Order also appears to subject children to indefinite imprisonment – which is unacceptable and violates previous court rulings. Bringing families back together just to lock them up again in prison camps is not a solution. There are better ways to manage this process that allow families to stay together while they go through the asylum process. The previous Administration had a program to keep kids out of jail, preserve opportunities for asylum, and enforce our laws.
Some families will meet the test to be granted asylum; others won't. But, as they go through that process, we should not be taking children from their parents or locking them up indefinitely. There are better ways that have proven to be effective. So please, keep speaking out and making your voices heard. Together, we can have secure borders and can stand up for the values that make America a beacon of light and hope to the rest of the world.