A dozen Democratic senators led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for an end on Friday to the Trump administration’s inhumane policies toward migrants held in substandard and overcrowded conditions at detention facilities along the border.
After touring a Customs and Border Protection detention facility and other sites in McAllen, Texas, Schumer called the treatment of detained migrants “heart-wrenching.”
“This is wrong. This is not who we are. This has to end. Now,” Schumer tweeted after the tour.
“The damn shame of it all is that all comes from the top. If the policy-making from the top changes, there could many more facilities like the Catholic charities facility we saw, which was really not great, but certainly decent, rather than the facilities like this, where it’s just awful, awful, awful to see how these people are being treated,” Schumer said at a press conference later.
According to Schumer, about 400 detained migrants were removed from the border facility in the days ahead of the senators’ visit to “make things look better,” HuffPost reported.
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who said he first saw children in cages as a result of Trump’s child separation policies over a year ago, said the underlying cause “is a philosophy [by] this administration of inflicting trauma on refugees and trauma on children as a strategy of deterrence.” He called that strategy “un-American.”
“It is not supportable under any moral code, under any set of ethics, under any religion, and it has to end. Child separation is still taking place at some level—not to the degree it was, but it’s still taking place,” he added.
Merkley said he met with one mother being detained with her son after fleeing Honduras when MS-13 gang members killed her grandfather and threatened to kill her. “When they had no more money, they fled for their life,” Merkley tweeted.
The Oregon senator shared photos showing the overcrowding at the facility, in which migrants are seen sprawled on the floor behind chain-link cages, some caring for toddlers.
Sen. Dick Durbin from Illinois said, “You can’t walk into this building and see children, and the situation that these children are in, and believe that it would be better for them and better for America for them to stay in detention in these cages for a longer period of time.”
Next week, when the senators return to Washington, Durbin said they would begin debating in the Senate Judiciary Committee various proposals for immigration reform.
Sen. Jacky Rosen from Nevada said, “This culture of cruelty has to stop. We have to remember our humanity.”
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey noted that the delegation pressed CBP officials about Trump’s constant fearmongering statements about asylum-seekers and other undocumented migrants. “When we pressed CBP today, over 98% of all of these people are not criminals,” Menendez said. “That should be said time and time again. Because the president would have us believe that we are being besieged by those who are criminals. Their own admission was 98% were not.”
Schumer proposed that asylum-seekers should be allowed to apply in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, “What we saw today was a continuing humanitarian crisis that is on the conscience of the American people and ought to shock the conscience of the American people.”
He added, “It is a humanitarian crisis of Donald Trump’s making.”
Blumenthal said that a bill Congress passed in June to provide $4.6 billion in emergency funding for the border—without the protections for migrants sought by progressive House Democrats—had helped improved the situation slightly. But he added that comprehensive immigration reform is needed to correct a system he described as fundamentally “broken.”
The senators called for passage of a bill proposed by Merkley and others, the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, which would “reform how children fleeing persecution are treated between the moment at which they arrive at our borders to claim asylum and the ultimate resolution of their asylum case,” according to a statement from Merkley’s office.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence, Lindsey Graham, and other Republican senators toured two migrant detention centers in Texas, and had a very different reaction than their Democratic colleagues. At one facility in McAllen, some 400 men were stuffed behind caged fences without room to lie down. According to journalist reports, a “stench from body odor hung stale in the air.”
Pence was seen on video clearly disturbed by what he was witnessing, although he did not denounce the conditions, instead praising the efforts of border officials.
On Friday, Blumenthal remarked that, “I think that what we’ve seen here is going to haunt us for a long time to come.”