On June 25, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) visited the U.S.-Mexico border and a detention facility in Texas to assess the conditions that detained children were being held in and question the federal officials tasked with caring for them.
Carbajal joined Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada) in crossing over the Paso del Norte Bridge into Cuidad Juárez, Mexico; toured the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Paso del Norte Processing Center after re-entering the country; joined a roundtable with advocates and service providers in El Paso, Texas; and toured the Tornillo Facility for Minors with Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials.
During his visit to the CBP facility on the border, Carbajal spoke to two children who he said crossed the border unaccompanied and were seeking asylum. Carbajal said that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials told him that the children had been held past the three-day limit for those detained at the border before being passed on to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
"At that point, one of the officials shared with me that they are routinely holding children beyond the three-day legal timeline, because there's a conflict of coordination between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services," Carbajal told the Sun. "Because of the lack of housing and placement, people are being held beyond the legal timeline."
Later, while speaking with HHS officials, Carbajal said, "They initially tried to dispute that."
"I told them they need to get together with the Department of Homeland Security and get their story straight, because the result is them violating children's rights," he said. "It's an example of the chaos we've been hearing about. It went from a crisis to a continued chaotic crisis by this administration."
While touring the child detention facility at Tornillo, which Carbajal described as a "tent city," he spoke with several of the children about the conditions there and what they'd like to see improved.
He said that the detained minors complained about being woken up at 5 a.m. in the morning in "a very regimented fashion," being shuttled quickly to short showers, and having limited time for recreation. Outdoor recreation was limited, Carbajal explained, because of the extreme heat in the desert area, and the kids were kept in an "auditorium" most of the day.
"This tent city is a for-profit outfit, which the government contracts with," Carbajal said, adding that the company is usually used to provide services during emergencies and natural disasters. "That's the sort of approach they are taking with the children's welfare. Certainly they are providing a basic level of care, but far from adequate for what we would expect for children."
There were more than 300 children held at the Tornillo facility, Carbajal said, and of those, about 26 were separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy toward asylum seekers.
Carbajal joined 190 House Democrats on June 19 in introducing the Keep Families Together Act, companion legislation for a bill presented in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), before President Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 to end child separation after a bipartisan national outcry.
The bill being pushed by Democrats would prohibit the DHS from separating children, but would also limit criminal prosecution of asylum seekers, provide training for CBP officers, and provide a policy for reunifying parents and children who have been separated.
The president's executive order doesn't address those issues, Carbajal told the Sun, especially in reuniting separated families.
Carbajal said his visit to the detention facilities was an emotional experience.
"It's quite disheartening to see an administration, and a complicit Congress, take such a misguided and backward direction in regards to the humane way we should treat immigrants and those seeking asylum," he said. "As a Marine, I signed up to defend our Constitution, and to see this country move in this direction, ... it's unbearable."