Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today delivered opening remarks at a committee markup:
Low-res video is available here.
“I’d like to speak about the president’s executive order and the ongoing crisis created by his policy to separate families. The American people have rightly been horrified by children being taken from their parents.
We’ve seen Republicans, Democrats, clergy, the medical community, business leaders, labor organizations—people from all walks of life stand up and say “enough is enough.” Average Americans spoke out, marched, and called their members of Congress pleading for us to stand up to the president and demand he reverse his policy.
They made clear this is not who we are. It’s not what America stands for.
We’re not a country that rips nursing babies from their mothers. And we’re not a country that puts dozens of children in cages with thin mats and aluminum blankets.
Yesterday I believed the president finally recognized that his policy was untenable and unsustainable. However, upon reading the language of the executive order as well as the comments from his agencies, I am deeply concerned to learn that the humanitarian crisis is not over.
Last night, after all the fanfare, an HHS official in the Trump administration told the press they will not make any efforts to reunite the more than 2,300 children who have been taken from their parents “because of the Zero Tolerance Policy.” Those children will continue to be processed as unaccompanied minors.
In addition, the language of the executive order states that the administration will seek to detain immigrant families indefinitely and it directs the attorney general to immediately file a legal challenge to reverse the protections in place that ensure a basic standard of care for immigrant children.
Some have argued indefinite detention is needed to ensure individuals show up for their court cases. Yet, according to ICE’s own statistics 99.8 percent of people in the Alternative to Detention Program show up to their day in court.
There is no reason indefinite detention is needed. The executive order eliminates discretion from the Department of Homeland Security and compels prolonged detention, even in cases where the mother is not a flight risk or a public safety threat.
Even if some members generally supported the use of indiscriminate and mandatory detention, the policy is unworkable. Its cost to effectuate will be astronomically high.
I also believe the policy is cruel, completely unnecessary. And this committee cannot let it happen. The administration has also made clear through the executive order they intend to challenge the Flores agreement. That order directs the Attorney General to promptly file suit to modify Flores.
And Gene Hamilton, counselor to the attorney general, confirmed last night that children will be separated from their parents after 20 days unless Congress weakens protections that ensure children in federal custody are treated humanely. So let’s be clear, the president’s executive order continues to hold children hostage.
But what’s worse, the executive order also creates a situation where in order to treat kids with parents humanely, Congress must revoke protections that ensure all kids are treated humanely, specifically unaccompanied ones.
I’ve been involved with the unaccompanied immigrant child for 20 years and I care deeply about ensuring we treat all children humanely. And let me tell you just for a moment how I got into this. Twenty years ago I saw on the news a 15-year-old Chinese girl trembling and sobbing before an immigration judge. She was manacled.
She had been taken off of one of the container ships that had a number of dead Chinese, as well as some who did not die that traveled across the Pacific Ocean for some sanctity in this land. She was detained for 12 months—she committed no crimes—including four months after being granted political asylum.
The girl’s story was not unique. Some children were held in secure prisons. They were isolated and forced to wear prison uniforms and shackles. Some were even placed in solitary confinement. Others were denied food and water. Let me repeat that: these children, in federal detention, were denied food and water.
In response, I drafted legislation to ensure basic standards of care for immigrant children and Congress passed it without opposition—and it was signed by a Republican president.
And after decades of the federal government failing to provide basic humanitarian protection for children and years of litigation, the government entered into the Flores settlement.
The Flores agreement requires that children be released from custody after 20 days when there’s no risk to public safety or flight concerns. It also ensures when children are held they are put in the least restrictive and appropriate setting. This usually means a facility licensed by a child-welfare agency.
The Flores settlement further made clear how the government must treat children in our care. For example, before the Flores agreement, children had been denied adequate food and water. Overturning these basic protections should be a price none of us are willing to pay.
I’m extremely disappointed that the executive order appears to be just another step in the Trump administration’s larger agenda to eliminate basic standards to ensure immigrant children and families are treated humanely and guaranteed due process rights.
What’s going on here is a bait and switch and I for one don’t believe we should accept this false choice. So, I will continue to work on passing legislation to protect children and keep families together.”