Jun 11 2019
Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke about the need to ensure that the humanitarian standards required by our laws are being upheld at our southern border. Senator Feinstein also called for a bipartisan bill to addresses the needs of the immigration system in handling increased numbers of asylum cases while maintaining the basic rights of children.
Video of her remarks is available here.
“In looking at the numbers going back to 1925 to 2018, there have been 15 years where we have had more than 1 million intrusions. So, it’s my understanding that we’re on track to remain below the historic [high] levels of apprehensions we saw in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
There have been approximately 600,000 crossings of our southern border so far this year. Border Patrol predicts, I understand, that we’ll reach about 1 million crossings before the end of the fiscal year. Just as we have in 15 other years.
We have had over a decade where the country has faced these crossings in the past, so it’s not unusual that it would happen again. But, there’s a different population.
Right now the ‘crisis’ that’s being talked about by the administration is not how many people are crossing the border, but it’s really a change in who is coming. This year, so far, over 84,000 families have arrived at the border, fleeing to seek asylum in the United States whereas previously the country faced border crossings from single adults seeking employment. That’s a big change.
These vulnerable parents and children have experienced violence, abuse and poverty in their home countries – particularly the Central American countries are affected - before they begin the arduous journey north.
Last week I met with John Sanders, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, who explained that Border Patrol apprehended 144,000 people crossing the border in May—including over 11,000 unaccompanied children. That’s 11,000 in one month if you can imagine it.
On May 30, the DHS Inspector General found that Border Patrol facilities are overcrowded. One facility in El Paso is holding 900 people in a space with a maximum capacity of 125. The IG was concerned that this overcrowding represented ‘an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers.’
Acting Commissioner Sanders told me that children in many border facilities have no cots or beds. Instead, they sleep on floors and benches with Mylar blankets. Often this can be the case for days and even weeks at a time.
Acting Commissioner Sanders also confirmed that only a few weeks ago, babies and toddlers were sleeping outside under a bridge in El Paso, entirely exposed to the elements.
We also saw firsthand last week that conditions are deplorable for adults in immigration custody. On Thursday, the DHS IG issued a report that ‘observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards’ at ICE holding facilities across the country.
The inspectors found facilities with moldy vents and concluded that immigrants received contaminated and rotten food. Specifically, the inspectors found chicken packets open and leaking in a refrigerator in an Essex, New Jersey facility. They found spoiled and unwrapped lunchmeat in a facility in Adelanto, California.
Ultimately, the IG concluded that immigrants are held in facilities that ‘show a disregard for detainee health and safety.’
This is unacceptable.
Last week, I introduced a bill to uphold the humanitarian standards our laws require, and ensure that immigration cases can be heard quickly and efficiently.
The Protecting Families and Improving Immigration Procedures Act would do the following:
- end the practice of separating families at the border and ensure children are not separated from their parents;
- ensure that families with children are not forced into prolonged detention in order to remain together;
- maintain the protections in Flores that require children to be treated humanely, given safe places to stay with adequate food and water;
- increase the efficiency of our immigration courts while protecting the basic rights of children by adding 450 staff to our immigration courts. This includes 75 additional judges, 75 law clerks and 300 total support staff. This is the number given to us by [the Department of] Justice as what they need. It is not a number devised by I or my staff.
- conserve resources for all immigration judges by restoring judicial discretion to prioritize their cases as needed; and
- finally, this bill includes a key component of Senator Hirono's bill, which provides counsel for unaccompanied children. This is important because too often young children, including toddlers, have been forced to represent themselves in immigration court. How and by whom this representation service is provided still needs to be worked out.
This legislation addresses the needs of the system in handling the increase in asylum cases while maintaining the basic rights of children.
Thanks again to Acting Secretary McAleenan for testifying today. I really hope we can find ways to move forward together. I really strongly feel that whatever we do should be bipartisan.
I think for this country to separate children—can you imagine how your four-, five- or six-year-old would remember that for the rest of his life, or her life, and be affected by it? I can, I have seven grandchildren and it’s a traumatic experience beyond. Particularly, if you end up under a freeway on a rock with a piece of Mylar.
I hope, Mr. Chairman, that your side will be willing to sit down with us and see if we can’t work out some bill of which we, as Americans, can really be proud.”