BROWNSVILLE — Two lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to come to the Valley and visit Border Patrol and facilities where undocumented immigrant children are held.
Reps. Ben Ray Luján, D-New Mexico, and Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, made the appeal after touring Southwest Key Programs’ Casa Padre and Casa Presidente facilities in Brownsville.
“I think we’re here to deliver a very clear message to the president. Mr. President, if you really are in charge, pick up the phone and stop this, stop the separation of children,” Luján said.
“And Mr. President, if you’re not in charge, call whoever it is and ask them for permission, if that’s Stephen Miller or Steve Bannon, then get permission from them to stop this. The president should come visit these children.”
Luján and Castro attended a roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, on Monday. During the discussion, they said a visit to the infant room at Casa Presidente impacted them after seeing a 9-month-old baby named Roger, who has been separated from his mother for more than one month.
They also encountered a 1-year-old child named Lea.
The infants are two of 40 children held in Casa Presidente, which holds a total of 80 undocumented minor immigrants who have been separated from their families under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, which mandates that all people entering the country illegally be prosecuted. The across-the-board policy, which Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson disputes is a policy, results in children who were illegally crossed by their parents being separated from the parents during criminal proceedings.
In late April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his new policy is a goal of 100 percent prosecution rates for those entering the country illegally.
Seeing the 9-month-old and 1-year-old infants without their parents struck a nerve with Castro as well as Luján.
“This is not the steel cages that we’ve seen in the processing centers, the conditions are Spartan,” Castro said, referring to Border Patrol processing centers in McAllen where undocumented immigrants have been held in large cages, which were built during the 2014 surge. “There was an infant room at Casa Presidente where infants were being taken care of by staff. Two of those were a 9-month-old named Roger and a 1-year-old girl whose name is Lea, who were separated from their family members.”
“In advocating and putting into place this policy, the president has taken us down a road where we are losing our humanity,’ Castro said. “The president has the power to end this process, but I agree, if he continues it, he should come and see these children for himself if he’s going to continue with this policy.”
Trump has shown no indication that he is rethinking “zero-tolerance” or its implications for family separation. Rather, the president has blamed Democrats.
“Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change! This is why we need more Republicans elected in November,” Trump said in tweet Saturday. “Democrats are good at only three things, High Taxes, High Crime and Obstruction. Sad!”
Those bills include one sponsored by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, which is considered a tough sell with cuts to legal immigration and only providing temporary status to Dreamers, NPR reported.
The other is another Republican bill that NPR describes as a compromise, which would provide Dreamers stronger legal protections and offer a slower path to legal status while cutting legal immigration and allotting billions for border wall funding.
Madhuri Grewal, policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, blasted both bills during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, saying the more hard-line bill sponsored by Goodlatte is largely considered dead on arrival.
Grewal also said the compromise bill isn’t actually a compromise at all, saying it offers limited legal protections, dismantles protections for jailing children, allots $23 million toward the border wall and cuts legal immigration.
“I really just want to make clear this bill won’t end family separation,” Grewal said.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, there is Republican and Democratic opposition to this bill.
During that roundtable Monday and throughout 48 hours of congressional tours, Democrats visiting the Rio Grande Valley have accused Trump of using family separation as leverage in negotiations over immigration reform.
“If the Democrats would sit down instead of obstruction, we could have something done very quickly – good of the children good for the country, good for the world,” Trump said Monday, Time reported. “We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world. Nobody has such sad, such bad … and actually in many cases, such horrible and tough. You see about the child separation, you see what’s going on there.”
A call to Trump
However, it’s what Luján and Castro saw while visiting Southwest Key Programs in Brownsville that compelled the representatives to call upon Trump to come and visit the border, and see the facilities for himself.
“That separation, that’s real. I know that when I was in there with everyone for a bit, I had to walk out. Out of frustration. And just thinking, ‘If the President has a heart, how could he let this happen?’ He should come in and see one of these little babies. Maybe hold one. Maybe he’ll feel something. Maybe it’ll set something right in him. I don’t know,” Luján said.