Jul 05 2019
By Dianne Feinstein
Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Rarely does a day pass without a new tragedy brought about by this administration’s callous immigration policies.
The most recent: a heartbreaking photo of a father and daughter from El Salvador lying face down in the Rio Grande after drowning.
More families, particularly from Central America, will cross in dangerous areas as long as the administration continues to meter how many can apply for asylum each day. Some families are forced to wait months in dangerous conditions in Mexico.
These desperate families will continue to take dangerous risks.
Another recent tragedy we recently learned about: a 4-month-old baby boy taken from his immigrant parents last year and placed in foster care.
Let that sink in. Rather than keep an asylum-seeking family together, authorities took a 4-month-old baby from his parents and sent him to live with strangers for months.
And even children who arrive safely often face poor conditions.
A Justice Department lawyer last week argued that migrant children don’t need provided soap, toothbrushes or beds. And stories are emerging about desperate conditions in some facilities including insufficient water and children sleeping on concrete.
Stories like these are all too common under an administration intent on waging war against immigrants.
Since 2017, more than 6,000 children have been separated from their families; refugees have been crammed into overcrowded pens at the border; we’ve even seen young children die while in government custody.
Over the past 2½ years, our immigration system has essentially been dismantled. Kindness is being replaced with malice, generosity with cruelty, and the importance of family with the terror of separation.
This is not the America we know and love.
How we treat children of immigrants says a lot about our values and who we are as a nation. That’s why I’ve fought for many years to ensure that migrant children are treated with care and dignity.
Many of these children are fleeing from gangs, domestic abuse and extreme poverty. They flee north seeking safety, family, and simply to survive.
This year more children than ever have come to our country seeking refuge. The choices on how to respond are clear: We can either handle their presence with compassion and fairness or we can inflict trauma and undermine the rule of law.
Make no mistake, when we reject our core values, like this administration is doing, children suffer. In recent months, five children have died after being detained by Border Patrol.
Jakelin, 7, was the first child we learned died in government custody. After being held for several hours in remote New Mexico — during which time she vomited — she was taken by bus to a Border Patrol facility. She stopped breathing en route. Although she was revived, she later died in an El Paso hospital.
Just a couple weeks later, Felipe, an 8-year old from Guatemala, died. After being ferried in and out of several border stations, Felipe was diagnosed with a common cold at a hospital and given Tylenol. Several hours later, on the way back to the hospital, he lost consciousness and died.
In May, another unaccompanied Guatemalan child, Carlos, died at a Border Patrol facility in Texas after being held for six days.
After each death, we asked the Department of Homeland Security for answers and a plan to ensure the safety of these children. We’ve received no answer.
For six months I’ve urged the administration to implement a pediatric screening — within 48 hours — for every child who in DHS custody. They have yet to do so.
I’ve introduced legislation to protect the Flores settlement agreement, which prevents children from being detained for prolonged periods of time in unsanitary conditions.
These steps are the bare minimum we should be taking to keep these children safe, but the administration continues to refuse.
Nothing can be worse than the death of a child, but the child separation policy comes pretty close.
This policy, which disregards the humanitarian needs and legal rights of immigrants seeking asylum, resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents.
It has become crystal clear that U.S. officials were woefully unprepared to care for these children, many of whom were lost in the system and took months to rejoin their parents.
We even saw stories of children left in vans for two days in the hot July Texas sun while waiting to be reunited with their parents. These were children as young as 5. The cruelty is unbelievable.
We also now know that the number of children separated from their parents is much higher than initially reported, and that separations continued after a court ordered them to stop last June.
This policy is inhumane and a stain on our values as a country. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to bar such acts from ever happening again.
In addition to my bill halting family separations, I also strongly support Senator Schumer’s bill to provide aid to Central American countries, the source of many families fleeing to the United States.
We need to be compassionate, not heartless, in how we treat these at-risk families.
It’s far past time for this administration to realize the lasting damage it’s causing, not only to our country’s reputation but to thousands of children who bear the brunt of these actions.
It’s going to take years to repair these mistakes. Hopefully those repairs can start sooner rather than later.
Dianne Feinstein is California’s senior senator.