Congressional Democrats Tour San Diego Immigration Detention Facilities
Our top story today, San Diego is the Ground Zero for the national debate over the morality of separating migrant children from their parents when they cross the border illegally. Today House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is in San Diego for a toward the border in the facility in El Cajon where dozens of children are being held while their parents wait for the court system. KPBS Supporter Jane Giro is on the front lines with us. What do we know about Nancy policies visit and who she is with and what she plans on doing? >> She is coming with the Congressional Hispanic Congress -- caucus and other members of Congress including Juan Vargas. They have been touring detention facilities all morning to get a firsthand look at the consequences of the Trump administration's practice of separating families at the border. They are going to be basically taking a look and speaking to press. >>> You also recently toured the same detention facility in El Cajon. What did you see their ? >> in addition to detention facilities they will go to tired national child migrant sources. They will check out the child migrant shelter I visited Monday where there are 65 boys, all boy shelter ages 6 to 17. We were part of this media tour where they led us see the boys in classrooms, playing outside, playing soccer, and getting a sense for the kind of activities they partake in at the shelter. It was a controlled tour. We were not allowed to speak to the boys. We were not allowed to interview them. We were unable to bring audio or visual recording into the shelter. It was a very controlled tour. We were able to see some of the boys engaged in a variety of activities. >>> Over the weekend, Homeland security Secretary Kristin Nielsen said we do not have a policy of separating children at the border period. But you have visual evidence that that is a real contradiction of what is happening on the ground, right? >> Right. There is no law that says families need to be separated at the border. Because of the zero tolerance policy that was announced earlier this year by the Trump administration where anyone who gets caught crossing the border illegally will be criminally prosecuted, the consequence is family separation. In previous years, if a family came across with a child, they would be put into immigration proceedings. Often times they would get to stay in family detention centers or if they were proving they were not a flight risk, they were released on parole with ankle bracelets to monitor their location. Now with the Trump administration what they are doing, the parents are placing -- placed in criminal proceedings. The child is sent to the office of refugee resettlement custody. And then they are placed in shelters across the United States. >>> Secretary Nielsen said that one way families could avoid being separated is by seeking asylum at the port of entry. Could they avoid being separated by going to the port of entry imprisoning themselves to U.S. authorities ? that is an interesting point. She said that. However our reporting has shown that even if people cross through ports of entry, there are cases of family separation at ports of entry. I followed a story of one father who came with his one-year-old baby. He presented himself at the San Ysidro port of entry and asked for asylum and said he feared for his life in El Salvador. Even though he did everything the legal way, they ended up taking his one-year-old baby. They sent him to a shelter on the other side of the country while the father remains in detention in ultra Mesa. >>> How are Republicans and Democrats addressing the separation of families at the border ? see there is a house Republican bill being drafted that they say addresses this issue. They say it would stop the separation. There is no specific provision that would stop Homeland security from separating families. The bill makes it harder to claim asylum and easier to detain children for longer periods. It seems like it allows families to be detained together and deported more quickly. It is unclear how it would actually bring an end to separating families. It does not specifically call for the Department of Homeland Security to stop this practice. This is a controversial -- even Republicans themselves are torn on this issue. Laura Bush came out with an op-ed in the Washington Post calling the practice of family separation cruel and amoral saying the United States should not be in the business of warehousing children. The photos are reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps. She and other Republicans are calling for a more compassionate and moral answer. Those are her words. President Donald Trump and his allies have been saying that this is a democratic policy. That is faults. It is hard to tell how this will end up turning out because everyone is in disagreement about the facts. >>> You will be reporting later today about what Nancy Pelosi says while she is in San Diego. Thank you, Jean.
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."
Ripping little children away from their parents is an utter atrocity that violates our asylum laws. The blame for every mistreated child, heartbroken parent & broken family rests squarely on Trump. Only he can end the trauma. #FamiliesBelongTogether https://t.co/BK7Tc9zyAd pic.twitter.com/HsxMy9kB0t— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) June 18, 2018
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.