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Feinstein Speaks on Family Separation, Welfare of Detained Immigrants

            Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke on the separation of families at our Southern border and the conditions in which children are held when detained.

            “As you know, we have both short-term and long-term assessments, and they’re confusing, of what’s happening at the southern border.

            In the short-term, apprehensions at the border are up. The Washington Post and The New York Times today both report that crossings were up 30 percent last month, from 58,000 in January to 76,000 in February.

            We know that many of these families seeking asylum were unable to present themselves at ports of entry because CBP has limited the number of asylum applicants who may enter at these ports each day. And I hope you’ll talk about that.

            In the longer-term, I’m told that total apprehensions at the border last year were actually, that’s last year, their 5th lowest levels over the past 46 years, well below their peak of 1.6 million in the year 2000.

            So if you could reconcile those differences, that would be appreciated too. I hope you’ll begin by stating clearly what the figures are, where you believe these crossings occur, and how much these numbers have increased or decreased. I hope you’ll also address how the changes in Administration policies have impacted these numbers.

            And I hope you’ll speak directly to the topic of today’s hearing, which is how immigrant children are being treated.

            Families who come to the U.S. are seeking refuge from violence and poverty in their home countries and there must be proper care provided, and it’s so difficult, but especially for the children, given that two children died in CBP custody in December. Specifically, families need prompt access to the asylum system at our ports and proper pediatric care needs available in the CBP facilities. If you could comment on that, that would be appreciated.

            We are also here to discuss the separation of families. There will be legislation to prevent this, but it’s clear that CBP has not investigated this issue enough. It’s difficult to get figures. It’s difficult to find out where placements are and I hope you’ll address the policies, identify techniques, and tell us what reunification plans for separated families exist today.

            With respect to the needs of children at the border, I hope CBP will implement improvements that account for differences between the medical needs of children, and those of adults. Children who fall ill are particularly vulnerable in detention. Unlike adults, sick children can become severely dehydrated within minutes or hours and rapidly go into shock. I’m sure you know this from your experience well.

            Children also need good conditions and prompt access to medications and medical facilities. And this is especially true for infants, who have suffered particular trauma in CBP custody in recent months. In December, a five-month-old infant was hospitalized shortly after release from Border Patrol custody, where she was held in freezing cells and denied access for her prescribed antibiotics. If that’s wrong, I hope you’ll correct it in your remarks.

            In light of these tragic events, I hope we can agree that CBP must account for the humanitarian needs of children in its care and look for ways to increase and strengthen that capacity. These recommendations are consistent with the findings of experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics –including Dr. Julie Linton, who will testify today.

            It is important, I think, that the United States maintain the crucial protections for children that exist in our legal system. The building blocks of this humanitarian system are the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Flores settlement agreement, which the chairman has mentioned, both of which we must preserve.

            The Trafficking Victims Protection Act contains provisions, which I authored, providing that children must be screened for asylum and transferred out of immigration custody within 72 hours. The Flores settlement provides that children must be held in the least restrictive setting possible and should not be detained for more than 20 days.

            It’s clear family separation is harmful to children’s health. CBP states that it only separates families in order to keep children safe. However, CBP officers don’t have the necessary child welfare training to determine when a child’s parent poses a danger.

            The Keep Families Together Act, which I reintroduced in January, would require consultation with a child welfare expert before any family separation could take place. As Refugees International highlighted in a statement that I will now submit for the record, if I may Mr. Chairman, children and parents should not be separated without input from a professional trained in child welfare. I hope you’ll support this today.

            Senator Cruz and I are working jointly on immigration legislation which contains the non-separation of children. We’ve worked on the shortfall of judges, of staff, of professionals in the arena going way back and I’ve been very happy that Justice [Department] has been willing to submit some figures they believe are really necessary. I look forward to finishing this with Senator Cruz and being able to make it public for everybody to take a look at.

            Commissioner, again, thank you for coming to testify today and I hope our discussion today will help us agree on ways to protect children’s health and safety.”