Rep. Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security yesterday expressing his alarm at DHS’s decision to block the House Oversight Committee from visiting 11 detention centers after previous visits revealed serious problems with the treatment of migrants being held in ICE custody.
In his letter Cummings wrote that detainees had said in a previous visit that “…toddlers—and in one case even an infant—were being fed burritos rather than age appropriate food, young children were held in cold rooms without appropriate clothing, and parents were not given a sufficient number of diapers for their children. One detainee alleged that a Border Patrol agent told a child who had spilled soup that the child would not receive more food unless the child drank the spilled soup off the floor.”
He also said that in previous visits border agents had prevented officials from meeting with the detainees. In one instance, an ICE agent had threatened to end a tour a facility when a detainee got the attention of one of the visiting member of Congress and said he had been abused. Cummings said that regular visits are necessary due to the questionable conditions of the detention centers.
The move by DHS comes only a week after acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified that members of Congress were welcome to visit any of the detention centers. The new restrictions would prevent Congressional representatives from visiting 11 different detention facilities that have been the subject of concern over the treatment of immigrants and the conditions in children and adults are being held. The decision came after the Oversight committee members were already on their way to inspect the facilities, despite having given DHS several days advance notice.
“It appears that the Administration expects Congress to be satisfied with receiving agency tours of facilities—in some cases without the ability to photograph conditions or interview detainees—and not to question the policies or decisions that agency officials make,” Cummings said in his letter. “That is not the way effective oversight works. Congress has an independent responsibility under the Constitution to determine whether federal programs are operating as they should be—not merely to accept the Administration’s word for it.”
Sources: The Hill 8/29/19; Huffington Post 8/29/19; Feminist Newswire 8/21/19