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The haunting images at our southern border

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Washington, D.C., July 27, 2019 | By Annie Kuster

Nursing infants taken from their mothers. Toddlers left unattended, being cared for by ten-year-old children. Hundreds of individuals crammed into cells with no room to sit or lay down. Florescent lights on 24 hours a day. Families shivering on concrete floors. A father and daughter laying face down in the Rio Grande. These are the images of President Trump’s attack on the basic human rights of migrants seeking asylum at our southern border. These are the conditions that haunt me and have outraged Americans across the country.

Over the past year, I have traveled to Texas twice to bear witness to the heartbreaking crisis at the southern border. This is a crisis exacerbated by President Trump’s heartless and immoral policies aimed at hurting the most vulnerable individuals who seek safety in our country. These families are fleeing unspeakable violence and horrific conditions in their home countries and look to the United States as a beacon of hope. They are primarily fleeing Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Sadly, they are being treated as invaders instead of what they truly are: desperate families trying to save their children. This is a humanitarian disaster.

We cannot stand by idly as President Trump and his administration assault our basic values as a nation. We condemn despots and human rights abuses around the world, but many are turning a blind eye to what’s taking place on our own soil. That’s why in the House of Representatives we are acting to address this crisis. Just this week, we passed H.R. 3239, the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act introduced by my colleague Dr. Raul Ruiz, which reforms the way migrants are treated in Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) custody by requiring all migrants receive medical screening, nutritional meals, access to hygienic care products, and basic conditions required for sleep including prohibiting CBP from putting migrants into overcrowded cells.

Disturbingly, we’ve also received reports of sexual violence in detention centers. Brave survivors have begun to come forward detailing chilling assaults by Border Protection agents. Some of the survivors are only in their teens. That’s why I drafted and successfully passed two amendments to H.R. 3239 to help ensure CBP follows its own sexual abuse prevention standards and require the Secretary of Homeland Security to release data on reports of sexual abuse complaints.

From my own experience working to prevent sexual violence on college campuses and in the military, I have learned the absence of formal complaints of sexual abuse does not reflect the absence of sexual violence, but instead signals a culture that prevents people from reporting violence.

According to a Freedom of Information Act request, between January 2010 and July 2016, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General received 624 complaints about sexual violence at CBP. Considering this information, CBP’s failure to promptly publish its own sexual abuse data, and the stories of survivors who have come forward, there is a clear need to improve transparency about sexual abuse at CBP.

The sad fact of the matter is until Congressional Republicans and Senator Mitch McConnell recognize that what is taking place on our southern border is a stain on our collective conscience and tears at our very fabric as a nation, more innocent children and families will suffer and more lives will be lost. I urge people to visit my website ( to see the disturbing photos and videos of the conditions I witnessed in the border facilities in Texas, and the hope and promise in the faces of the young children and their families seeking safety and opportunity in America.

We can have strong borders and a nation of laws without compromising our national values. Future generations will judge us based on how we treat the most vulnerable. I will continue to do my part to ensure that history shows that there were those who spoke truth to power and fought for justice.

(Congresswoman Annie Kuster represents New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.)