In light of recent reports of squalid living conditions for migrants detained in border detention facilities, Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, praised a bipartisan House bill intended to provide financial aid to overwhelmed border agencies.
Stauber also said detention facilities along the southern United States-Mexico border serve to deter a high influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico and other countries of Latin America.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal investigation published Tuesday, July 2, found inhumane and unacceptable living conditions for detained migrant families housed in four Texas detention facilities.
Imprisoned for weeks in severely overcrowded facilities, the report states thousands of detainees -- many of them children between the ages of infancy and 17 -- are often relegated to fenced-in areas or closed cells, forced to sleep on concrete floors with little more than an aluminum-lined blanket for warmth, provided inadequate meals, and denied basic hygiene items like toothbrushes and soap.
“Specifically, we encourage the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley,” wrote Jennifer Costello, acting inspector general.
“The humanitarian aid that we voted on will help that situation,” Stauber said. “The second part is that we have to disincentivize people from coming into our country illegally. We have to ensure we have credibility on the borders, that we are allowing legal immigrants because that built our country.”
Stauber said he agrees with President Donald Trump’s assessment of the border situation after a recent trip to Yuma, Ariz. In a July 2 phone call with the Dispatch, Stauber characterized it as a state of national emergency.
“When I went down to the border and saw it firsthand, I saw the effects of a porous border,” Stauber said. “I saw the crisis firsthand and with my own eyes. I saw border patrol agents overwhelmed. … When I asked the border patrol section chief, he said, ‘Absolutely, there’s a crisis, we’re overwhelmed.’”
Between October 2018 and May 2019, apprehensions of migrants in the Rio Grande Valley increased about 124%, or roughly 223,000 compared to just under 100,000 apprehended between October 2017 and May 2018, according to the July 2 inspector general’s report.
Between October 2018 and May 2019, border officials dealt with:
Nearly 24,000 detained unaccompanied children, or a 62% increase from October 2017 to May 2018.
Nearly 136,000 detained family members, or a 269% increase in detained family units from the previous year.
Roughly 63,500 individuals or a 32% increase in detained single adults from the previous year.
As stipulated in the HR-3401 bill, agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,
U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services look to garner portions of $4.6 billion in allocated emergency funding, Stauber noted.
“In Thursday’s vote, finally Speaker Pelosi understood and agreed there’s a crisis at the border,” Stauber said. “And she finally allowed the bill to address the humanitarian crisis to come to a floor vote and it passed. Many Democrats understood there’s a crisis as well.”
Stauber said Pelosi -- by allowing HR-3401 to come to a vote after roughly 80 refusals -- signaled she finally agrees with Republicans’ assessment of a crisis emerging from underfunded and understaffed border facilities not equipped to handle such a high influx of illegal immigrants.
Pelosi, in a letter to her caucus obtained by the Washington Post, described the bill as a necessary step to address a humanitarian crisis adversely affecting children.
"The children come first. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available,” Pelosi wrote. “Therefore, we will not engage in the same disrespectful behavior that the Senate did in ignoring our priorities. In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill."
In an editorial to the Washington Post, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, said the spending bill is a helpful short-term fix, but not enough to address long-standing and dire problems at the boundary.
“The tragic conditions at detention facilities are the result of an intense surge in migration across the border. Near-record apprehensions -- including those of thousands of unaccompanied minors -- are pushing detention facilities such as the one in Clint, Texas, to significant overcapacity,” Hurd wrote. “The space, resources and manpower hours necessary to care for these minors poses major challenges for personnel and infrastructure already stretched thin.”