Congressional Democrats Tour San Diego Immigration Detention Facilities
Monday, June 18, 2018
Photo by Katie Schoolov
Jean Guerrero, fronteras reporter, KPBS
UPDATE: 4:00 p.m., June 18, 2018
About a dozen members of Congress toured a migrant shelter for children in San Diego on Monday amid a growing controversy about the Trump administration's practice of separating families taken into custody at the border.
The Democratic members of Congress, who included Nancy Pelosi and Juan Vargas, visited Casa San Diego, where 10 percent of the children were separated from their parents. Vargas said the problem isn't with the shelter, but with the Trump administration's practice of separating families.
"The policies we have on the separation of children from their parents is immoral, it's wrong, nobody what you say about it, it's certainly not biblical," said Vargas, a San Diego congressman who led the tour with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Pelosi said the Trump administration is psychologically damaging these children.
"Do they think these children deserve less than their children in terms of care and love? This is not an immigration issue. It's a humanitarian issue."
She called on the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.
The members of Congress say only President Trump has the power to put a stop to this practice. Children have been separated from their parents at the border before. But now it's happening by the hundreds each month due to a new zero tolerance policy that criminally prosecutes anyone who crosses the border illegally. It's leading to the creation of new detention centers for the children.
The delegation also visited an immigration detention center in Otay Mesa and two other detention facilities.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were in San Diego Monday. The delegation will tour various immigration detention facilities to witness first-hand the effects of the Trump Administration’s family separation practices. They also plan to meet with women, men, and children who have been detained at the border.
The lawmakers, including Juan Vargas (D-Chula Vista), are scheduled to hold a news conference in Otay Mesa near the U.S.-Mexico border at noon on Monday.
KPBS News toured a youth migrant detention facility in El Cajon on Friday when it was opened to some media outlets. Casa San Diego houses 65 boys between the ages of 6 and 17. About 10 percent of the boys were separated from their parents by the U.S. government, according to Gerardo Rivera, associate vice president of immigrant children's services for Southwest Key Programs, the nonprofit that runs the shelter.
Federal authorities said Friday that government officials had separated 2,000 children from parents facing criminal prosecution for unlawfully crossing the border over a six-week period that ended last month.
The lawmakers’ visit comes amid a public outcry over families being separated at the border. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also announced the U.S. will block access to asylum for most victims of domestic violence and gang violence.
Congressman Vargas expressed his outrage over the policy change on Twitter: “The Trump Administration’s decision to deny asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence is heartless and dangerous,” Vargas tweeted. “I stand with those seeking a safe haven in our country. We must help the most vulnerable among us.”
Congresswoman Pelosi called the family separation practice "barbaric."
Dozens of protests took place across the country over the weekend. A “Families Belong Together” rally is scheduled in downtown San Diego on Saturday in front of the Civic Center.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus came to San Diego to tour detention facilities and see the first-hand the effects of the Trump Administration’s family separation policies.
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