Kuster wants action on border
Fresh from her trip to immigration detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border this weekend, U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said major changes are needed.
“You can’t fathom the government of the United States taking children out of the arms of their mothers,” Kuster said during an interview with The Telegraph on Monday.
Kuster toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station and the McAllen Centralized Process Center in McAllen, Texas, and and the Port of Isabel Detention Center in Brownsville, Texas this weekend. This is a site managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
There, she said she met with more than 40 mothers who fled violence in their home countries, only to have their children taken away from them at the border.
“The American people are really upset about this,” Kuster said.
Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to overturn a policy decision his administration made six weeks ago to separate children from families at the border. In the time the policy was active, more than 2,300 children were taken from their families and shipped to child care facilities across the country.
The abrupt turnabout is leaving more questions, as some children are being held by adoption agencies and have yet to be reunited with their families. Kuster said the Trump administration is already ordering the Pentagon to prepare to house up to 20,000 people in military facilities.
“It was never clear they ever had a plan,” Kuster said.
Kuster said she spoke with one woman who hasn’t seen her child in five weeks, and two mothers who had their nursing babies taken from them. They have been placed in a detention center with no resources to find their children, she said.
According to Kuster, the center is operated by a for-profit corporation that charges detainees $8 a minute for a phone call. The detainees have no money in the detention center accounts, and their families do not know where they are being held and cannot send them money.
“This is cruel,” Kuster said. “We were all very shocked this was the situation.”
Kuster said she saw detainees in the initial border patrol station and processing center where people, including young children, are being held in cages. The frightened families are separated, and lied to about what is happening, Kuster asserts. For example, mothers are told children are not allowed in the courtroom for their initial immigration hearing, she said. Those mothers are not told during the hearing the children will be taken away.
Many being held at the border are coming to the U.S. seeking asylum as they flee violence and terror in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, each overrun by criminal gangs such as MS-13. Kuster said it is imperative the U.S. help migrants seeking safety.
“Obviously, we need strong borders,” Kuster said. “But our country has a history of compassion for people fleeing violence in their home countries,” she said.
Up until recently, families seeking asylum would be released into the American community, and assisted by an asylum advocate. When this system was in effect, 98 percent of the families showed up for their immigration and asylum court hearings, according to Kuster.
Kuster is backing the Hurd-Aguilar immigration bill in Congress now. Similar to the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform introduced five years ago, Hurd-Aguilar would secure the border and provide help for people who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Kuster said she knows the impact immigrants can have on America. Her great grandfather, John McLane, immigrated to New Hampshire from Scotland to work in the Manchester mills. He eventually went on to be New Hampshire’s governor from 1905 to 1907.
Kuster said that even without a legislative fix, the Trump administration could do more.
“The administration could fix it with a phone call, or the stroke of a pen,” Kuster said.