The mistreatment of asylum-seekers along our country’s southern border will be this country’s shame for generations. It contradicts the fundamental values of our nation. It must end.
The appalling conditions in Customs and Border Protection detention centers reported by government watchdogs and The New York Times, and observed by Congressional representatives last week are inexcusable: Thousands of detainees — including children — held for days or weeks in short-term facilities, with no access to showers, hot meals or clean clothes. Overcrowding, including standing-room-only conditions for single adults at one location. In another, officials found some detainees had been held for more than a month in overcrowded cells.
These were only the most recent revelations in this humanitarian crisis. Government observers noted overcrowding at four of five CBP facilities they inspected and prolonged detentions in each. Of the 8,000 detainees, they report that 3,400 had been held longer than the standard 72 hours for such temporary facilities; 1,500 had been held there more than 10 days. Inspectors cautioned that dangerous overcrowding and other deficiencies demanded “immediate attention” — reiterating their urgent message from a previous report.
Both agencies charged with taking custody of undocumented migrants from CBP are at or over capacity, inspectors noted, creating a logjam that can only have been exacerbated by Attorney General William P. Barr’s April directive ordering immigration judges to stop granting bail to asylum-seekers. Yet, when Seattle’s U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman blocked that unconstitutional order last Tuesday, the White House lambasted her decision. The administration is expected to appeal.
Even $4.6 billion in emergency funding cannot hope to undo the damage caused by this government’s failures along our southeastern border, nor can it absolve the Department of Homeland Security or its agents of responsibility for detention centers’ inhumane conditions. President Donald Trump’s callous assertion that many migrants “are living far better now than where they came from,” along with the despicable and dehumanizing banter in a private Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents, suggests a lack of moral as well as financial resources are at play.
The current administration’s politically profitable scaremongering about our so-called border crisis has, in fact, created one. The answer cannot be to simply build more detention centers or expand capacity, but to swiftly and fairly adjudicate applications for asylum while protecting migrants’ fundamental human dignity.
For more than a year, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has wreaked havoc on our immigration and border protection infrastructure — terrorizing families, traumatizing children, tarnishing our global reputation and eroding our country’s very soul. Leaders cannot allow this devastation to continue.
The House Oversight Committee has scheduled hearings to look into treatment of unaccompanied migrant children, and contemptible Facebook commentary by current and former Border Patrol agents. Lawmakers have invited testimony from DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and CPB Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan.
These leaders must not be allowed to obfuscate or pass the buck.