U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) introduced legislation Thursday that they said would “put an end to the Trump Administration’s cruel and neglectful treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
They joined Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) in introducing the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, which would reform the treatment of children fleeing persecution, starting the moment they arrive at the border to claim asylum until the ultimate resolution of their asylum case.
“The Trump Administration’s ongoing abuse of migrant children is barbaric and outrageous, and the damage being done to children at these detention centers is irreversible,” said Warner. “In addition to ending the cruel separation of families, this legislation will ensure that the government fulfills its responsibility of guaranteeing safe and sanitary conditions for children and families in government custody.”
“The Trump Administration’s treatment of immigrant families is both cruel and incompetent. We need to do everything we can in Congress to stand up against the heartless actions of this President and protect these kids,” Kaine said.
Conditions “more widespread”
The Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act comes on the heels of reports highlighting that the poor treatment of children at the border – including horrific conditions, abuse, and retaliation against children – may be even more widespread than was previously known. The legislation 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, requiring access to hygiene products including toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, and a prompt medical assessment by trained medical providers.
- Requiring that 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, and ensuring 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.
The Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act would also provide resources to non-profit centers that are providing humanitarian assistance, and improve public oversight of facility conditions by allowing members of Congress and their staff, along with credentialed press (without cameras), to visit any facility with 24 hours’ notice.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously stressed the need to address the migrant crisis at the border, including its root causes. In May, they reintroduced legislation to provide a coordinated response to effectively manage the humanitarian crises in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.