Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) spent Father’s Day in Texas, visiting a border patrol processing center and two detention centers, to see firsthand what was happening to families crossing from Mexico into the United States.
He spoke with a woman from Guatemala who did not know where her 12-year-old daughter was and other women whose children had been moved to facilities in New York and Florida.
Not only are children being separated from their parents, but brothers and sisters are also separated from each other, as the detention facilities are not co-ed, he said.
Van Hollen traveled with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or.). They were prohibited by Homeland Security from taking photos and talking with anyone besides those who had been approved, he said.
Listening to the mothers’ anguish and seeing children age 10 and older lying down, all covered in the same shiny silver blankets that often are used by marathoners after they finish their race, was “gut-wrenching,” he said.
“This trip confirmed my worst fears about what was happening. It was even worse than I thought.”
The senator had harsh words for President Donald Trump, calling his six-week-old separation policy “a manufactured humanitarian crisis.”
Trump “is essentially using these kids as leverage to enact a much-broader set of immigration laws,” Van Hollen said.
The future of students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), money for a border wall, and pathways to citizenship for immigrants are issues that need to be worked out in a bipartisan manner, but not at the expense of families and young children, Van Hollen said.
“You have almost universal condemnation of this abhorrent policy,” he said. Republican and Democratic politicians in Washington, D.C., are speaking out against it as are religious leaders of different faiths, he noted.
The four or five women Van Hollen spoke with at the Port Isabel Detention Center were all clad in the same blue prison uniform.
“They all had awful stories,” Van Hollen said of the women who mostly hailed from Honduras. “They were in tears.”
The women left their country to escape gang violence, extortion and threats to themselves and their children. Some left because their children were targeted for refusing to join a gang; others fled because they feared for their lives when they couldn’t repay the gang members who lent them money, he said.
Van Hollen also visited a bridge that crosses the Rio Grande River where immigrants are supposed to enter the United States for processing. While there used to be a steady flow over the bridge, border patrol agents posted in the neutral area between Mexico and the United States have “limited the ability of people to cross that bridge.”
“They have slowed to a trickle,” he said, adding, “The reality is they made that virtually impossible” to cross.
Van Hollen called on everyone to urge Trump to end this policy. “The focus needs to be on the President and trying to reverse this order.”
He is not optimistic that Congress could quickly pass an immigration bill that would be signed by the President.
Also upset with the Trump administration’s Department of Justice memo to separate families are members of the MoCo Students for Gun Control. On Tuesday, they staged a protest at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, lying down along the hallway after first knocking on his Congressional office door.
Neither Ryan (R-Wi.) nor any member of his staff came out and spoke with the students.
After five of the students were arrested, the other students went to the office of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th District) to tell him what had happened.
While the students have been focused on gun control and school safety, they explained to Raskin that separating children from their parents was also an issue of safety for children.
The eight students, many recent graduates of County high schools, told Raskin that they wanted this policy to stop right away and that children should never be used as bargaining chips.
“It’s incumbent for all of us to speak up,” Matthew Post, a recent graduate of Sherwood High School and the student member of the County School Board, said while being videotaped in Raskin’s office. “It’s on us to change this.”
Post later tweeted, “Today Paul Ryan ended our peaceful sit-in and had five of my friends arrested for protesting literal child concentration camps. It shouldn’t be this hard to end a cruel, monstrous policy. Bring a bill to the floor, Paul”