Even as the U. S. Border Patrol allowed local reporters to visit the McAllen facility where families apprehended at the border or who turn themselves in at the area ports of entry are being held, the issue of the separation of families became a national concern as local residents in South Texas protested the forced separation of families, area Congressmen condemned the policy and Trump administration officials defended the policy.
Over the weekend, a handful of protesters stood outside the Border Patrol office in McAllen decrying the policy. Similar protests were held in other cities along the border.
On Monday, national attention was focused on McAllen as the CBS This Morning’s host Gayle King did a live report from the city, reporting her experience when she toured the local facility and spoke with some of the families.
In a former warehouse, several immigrant children were placed in what amounted to enclosures made with metal fencing, what many called cages. According to Border Patrol officials, the number of children can vary by the age but did say that some may hold up to 25 or more youths. The officials pointed out that the children are clothed, fed and cared for. Medical attention is provided as needed. However, when viewing how the children were grouped, it was hard to see if they were being closely supervised, with many children left to keep themselves busy while the process of determining their status rolls on.
According to Border Patrol officials, the facility is currently housing more than 1,000 people, including adults and minors. Adult males and females are each held in separate areas. Likewise, male and female children are also housed separately. It was apparent that some of the children were siblings while others were alone.
One teenage girl reported that she was caring for an un-related child because no one else would care for the toddler. The older children in the cell had to change the toddler’s diapers.
Also on Monday, Congressmen Henry Cuellar (Laredo) and Vicente Gonzalez (McAllen) held a press conference to speak about the issue of family separation.
“Make no mistake about this. This is a policy created by the Trump administration. This forced family separation due to the Zero Tolerance policy is of their own making. Federal law does not require it,” Cuellar said. “There are only a few cases where it does require that adults and children be separated.”
According to Cuellar, the law calls for separation of children in the case where the person accompanying the child is not the parent or a close relative or where there is a danger to the child (such as drug trafficking). Gonzalez acknowledged that children may be separated from their parents upon entry only for the purpose of determining that the adults are the parents and processing the family. He added that the family should be separated no more than 72 hours (3 days).
The two Congressmen also urged the administration to end the policy immediately.
“Is it their policy? Can they end it immediately? Yes and yes,” Cuellar said.
The two Congressmen were also asked about two competing bills that have been introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives that aim to address immigration. One is being called the “conservative” bill and the other is called a “compromise” bill. The authors of the respective bills claim to provide legal status for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) participants, reduce legal immigration, strengthen enforcement and funding for the border wall. However, it was not clear that either bill would address the family separation issue.
Asked if they supported either bill and whether the bills had a chance of passing, Cuellar simply said, “No and no. The bills do not do enough and they do not have enough support to pass in the House. Also, just about anything that is passed in the House will be too conservative for the Senate. So, no, I don’t think either bill will actually pass Congress.”
At the same time, Texas’ two Senators proposed separate bills to deal with the family separation issue.
Sen. Ted Cruz announced emergency legislation Monday evening to keep immigrant families together after they cross the border into the United States.
The legislation follows comments Cruz made on Saturday that essentially called for more resources to adjudicate asylum claims. He also called for keeping immigrant kids with their parents as long as those adults are not associated with criminal activity.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz wrote in a release. “This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week.” Cruz’s legislation focuses on increasing the number of federal immigration judges, creating new temporary shelters to keep families together, orders that families be kept together and expedited reviews.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator and the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on the chamber floor earlier Monday that he, too, would introduce legislation on this front.
“It will include provisions that mitigate the problem of family separation while improving the immigration court process for unaccompanied children and families apprehended at the border,” he said. “To the greatest extent possible, families presenting at ports of entry or apprehended crossing the border illegally will be kept together while waiting for their court hearings, which will be expedited.”