WASHINGTON — Democrats called for an end to what they characterized as human rights abuses by the Trump administration on Thursday in two consecutive, emotionally charged press conferences. Along with activist groups like Indivisible, MoveOn and United We Dream, lawmakers demanded cuts to ICE and CBP funding and announced a bill to end child detention camps.
Funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which houses both ICE and CBP, is an ongoing topic of contention. A bipartisan conference committee is currently in negotiations over border security funding in hopes of heading off another government shutdown next week.
According to several freshman Democratic legislators though, ICE and CBP should have their funding slashed, not increased.
“This is one of the most urgent moral issues and crises that we have in America right now,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “An agency like ICE, which repeatedly and systematically violates human rights, does not deserve a dime.”
Last year, the CBP came under fire when two children, both Guatemalan immigrants, died in their custody, and in May, the ACLU, in conjunction with the University of Chicago, released a report detailing how CBP agents inflicted physical and verbal abuse, including sexual assault and death threats, on migrant children. You can read the report here.
A report by the Inspector General of the DHS, released in December, found that ICE committed similar violations and that detainees were subject to inhumane treatment by the agency.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich, said that lawmakers need to use their authority hold ICE and CBP accountable for their history of chronic human rights abuse.
“As mothers, we will not allow children to die while we’re in power,” she said.
A bicameral group of Democrats are also introducing a bill — the Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act — to end temporary shelters for immigrant children. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the camps allow the Department of Health and Human Services to skirt rules for the detention of immigrant children established by the 1997 Flores settlement, which requires the government to release children to an appropriate caregiver “without unnecessary delay.”
“Migrant children fleeing persecution, seeking refuge in the United States, awaiting asylum hearings belong in homes and schools and parks, not behind barbed wire,” Merkley said.
One such temporary shelter, a tent city in Tornillo, Texas that housed nearly 3,000 children, closed just last month, but another is still operating in Homestead, Florida. According to Merkley, after closing the Tornillo shelter, the administration added more beds to the Homestead facility, nearly doubling its size.
“This policy and the way we’re treating migrant families awaiting asylum hearings is coming from a very dark and evil place in the heart of this administration and we have to end it,” he said.