ICE, Border Patrol at Senate hearing on family separations

01 August, 2018, 21:08 | Author: Bert Pena
  • US President Donald Trump is once again threatening a government shutdown unless Congress approves funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border

In response to questions from the senators about reports of women being sexually abused by guards in detention centres, Matthew Albence, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, said there were "rigorous" inspections of facilities, with investigations launched on any reports of abuse.

Trump has previously floated the possibility of a government shutdown over border security and immigration, and on Sunday he made his threat explicit, saying he would do so unless Congress funds his proposed wall, which he promised Mexico would pay for, and puts in place his preferred immigration policies.

With President Donald Trump already under fire for taking thousands of migrant children from their detained parents - and botching the reunification of many - the request for the investigation elevated yet another issue to the administration's list of immigration headaches.

Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, called family separations a "humanitarian disaster" and called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to step down.

Committee Chairman Charles Grassley says Trump's crackdown on people illegally crossing the border from Mexico was well-intentioned but has had unintended consequences. "Trump seized on the praise, tweeting today that "a highly respected Federal judge" had said that the "'Trump Administration gets great credit' for reuniting illegal families. "I think, hopefully, most of the appropriation bills will actually be passed a little more - a little better prioritization of spending".

"These individuals are there because they've broken a law", he added.

Albence said pro bono legal services and medical and dental care were also available at the centres.

But of more than 2,500 children who were initially separated from parents and guardians, hundreds remain in federal custody including more than 400 whose parents left the USA without them. And lawmakers on both sides agreed on Tuesday that the US should never return to a policy of forcibly separating children from their parents.

To prove his point, Albence said during Tuesday's Senate hearing that of the 75,000 immigrants now in those programs, only 2,430 were deported in fiscal year 2017.

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Trump campaigned on a promise of building a wall to deter illegal immigration and to make Mexico pay for it. Mexico has refused, leading Trump to look to USA taxpayers to fund the endeavor instead, at least for now.

"During the deliberative process over the previous year, we raised a number of concerns in the (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child as well as about whether that would be operationally supportable with the bed capacity that we had", White said. He said congressional critics "offer no plausible or workable solution at all".

GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Grassley introduced a bill that would do just that, allowing the government to house parents and children together for longer periods of time in "family residential centers".

But she also said "the initiative was a prosecution initiative, and our focus was on the prosecution element only", citing the "zero tolerance" policy for border-crossers.

Past administrations generally operated under what President Trump has derided as a "catch and release" policy, briefly detaining family units before releasing them into the interior of the country with a promise to return for a hearing.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego set a deadline of last Thursday to reunite the families.

Trump formally ended the practice of separating parents from their children when he signed an executive order in June. He says he's "very comfortable" with immigrants' treatment.

The AP reported last month that children held at an immigration detention facility in Roanoke, Virginia, said they were beaten while handcuffed, locked in solitary confinement and left nude and cold in concrete cells.

A civil rights lawsuit has been filed alleging mistreatment at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Roanoke, Virginia, from 2015 to 2018. The alleged victims, Hispanic youths held for months or years, have submitted sworn statements in the case.

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