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Senators Introduce Legislation to Stop Cruel and Neglectful Treatment of Children at Border

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala D. Harris (both D-Calif.) joined with 38 members of the Senate Democratic caucus to introduce the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act.

The legislation, introduced by Senators Feinstein, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and cosponsored by Senator Harris, would end the cruel and neglectful treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border and reform how children fleeing persecution are treated after they arrive at the borders to claim asylum.

“The conditions faced by migrant children at the border are appalling and should outrage every American,” Senator Feinstein said. “Our bill will ensure safe and sanitary conditions for children at the border and improve the asylum process to keep families united. Treating children better – no matter where they come from – shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I urge my Republican colleagues to join us in this effort.”

“The inhumane treatment of children at our border is disgraceful and does not reflect our values. We are better than this,” Senator Harris said. “That’s why my colleagues and I introduced the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act – legislation that improves treatment of children and families at detention facilities, which are often overcrowded and unsafe, and reins in this administration’s cruel practice of ripping children from their parents.”

The Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act would create clear, non-negotiable standards for the treatment of children in America’s care, including:

  • Ending family separations except when authorized by a state court or child welfare agency, or when Customs and Border Protection and an independent child welfare specialist agree that a child is a trafficking victim, is not the child of an accompanying adult, or is in danger of abuse or neglect;

  • Setting minimum health and safety standards for children and families in Border Patrol Stations.

    • The bill requires access to hygiene products including toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, regular nutritious meals, and a prompt medical assessment by trained medical providers.

  • Requiring children receive three meals a day that meet USDA nutrition standards.

  • Ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities. 

    • The bill ensures that temporary influx facilities are state-licensed, meet Flores standards, and are not used to house children indefinitely.

  • Expanding alternatives to detention and the successful Family Case Management Program.

  • Removing roadblocks to placing unaccompanied children with sponsors by lowering case manager caseloads, mandating lower staffing ratios, and ending the information sharing agreement between ORR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
    • These provisions would ensure that children are moved out of detention centers and into community-based settings—usually, sponsored by family members—as soon as possible.

  • Ensuring unaccompanied children have access to legal counsel and continue to be placed in a non-adversarial setting for their initial asylum case review.

Additionally, the legislation would provide resources to non-profit centers that are helping to provide humanitarian assistance, and improve public oversight of the conditions children are being held in by allowing members of Congress and their staff, along with credentialed press (without cameras), to visit any facility with 24 hours notice.

In addition to Senators Feinstein, Schumer, Merkley and Harris, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.),  Maize K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Angus King (I-Maine), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).