U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to demand answers on the Administration’s inhumane and unlawful treatment of migrants in detention.
Slotkin also announced she will travel with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to visit the Southern border Friday, July 19, to inspect the facilities in person.
In her letter to acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Slotkin asked why migrants, including children, are being detained longer than is permitted by law; how the Administration can guarantee that congressionally appropriated funds will be spent for their intended use to alleviate suffering at the border; and why the Administration is not taking pragmatic steps to mitigate overcrowding — such as coordinating with local non-profits and opening up military housing — as was done in 2014, when Slotkin served as a Pentagon official.
“The pictures captured by your own Inspector General leave those who see them with an urgent need to understand how this is allowed to happen in the name of the United States,” Slotkin says in the letter. “I know you have the relationships and the tools to treat people with decency. I know that the majority of CBP officers and Border Patrol agents — like the dedicated men and women who guard the border in my home state of Michigan — do not seek to keep people, especially children, in squalid conditions. Yet the conditions and the violation of our own laws persist.”
As part of the bipartisan delegation to the border, Slotkin will inspect ports of entry, a border patrol station, a centralized processing center, and will participate in briefings and discussions with experts on the ground.
“As someone who has spent my entire career working to protect the homeland, I know that protecting our country and ensuring migrants in our care are treated humanely are not mutually exclusive — we can and must do both,” Slotkin said of her upcoming trip to the Southern border. “The overcrowding and failure to provide basic necessities for migrants, particularly children, at the Southern border fails to live up to our moral responsibilities, and requires our urgent attention. I look forward to joining a bipartisan delegation of members to see firsthand what is happening in our name, and better understand exactly how Congress can take action to solve this problem.”
Full text of the letter is below:
Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan,
I’m writing today to ask that you explain why migrants under your care are living in squalid, overcrowded conditions along our southern border, and to account for why migrant children, in particular, have been detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) longer than the 72 hours permitted by law. The pictures captured by your own Inspector General leave those who see them with an urgent need to understand how this is allowed to happen in the name of the United States. In response to these conditions, I have introduced the Short-Term Detention Standards Act (H.R. 3670), which will expand requirements for providing basic necessities to migrants to include access to bathroom and shower facilities, water, appropriate nutrition, hygiene, personal grooming items, and sanitation needs — but such a bill should not be necessary.
To be sure, as a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I know the problem we’re expecting you to manage is an extremely difficult one, and I am sympathetic to the challenges associated with processing the sheer numbers of people coming through our southern border. At 132,887 apprehensions in May alone, this is a crisis that would overwhelm your department under any administration.
That said, this is not the first time we have seen large numbers of migrants crossing the border. As recently as 2014, we saw an unprecedented surge in unaccompanied minors, mostly in their teens, apprehended at the southwest border. In the span of eight months, 47,017 children came over, mostly seeking placement with relatives, and their arrival understandably overwhelmed CBP at the time. Just as today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), along with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), were responsible for the care of large number of migrants. In addition to processing them as quickly as possible, DHS and HHS were responsible for finding bed and living space on an emergency basis.
I know firsthand how your agency responded in 2014. At the time, I was performing the duties of the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon. I was there when an emergency request was made for help with bed space. I represented the Pentagon at countless White House meetings on how to handle the crisis. And I watched as DHS began working with national non-profits, like Catholic Charities, and local ones, like the Annunciation House in El Paso, to help provide the housing, feeding, medical care, and other forms of support needed.
Based on that experience, it is difficult for me to understand what is happening today. I know you have the relationships and the tools to treat people with decency. I know that the majority of CBP officers and Border Patrol agents — like the dedicated men and women who guard the border in my home state of Michigan — do not seek to keep people, especially children, in squalid conditions. Yet the conditions and the violation of our own laws persist.
Given that, I request a response to the following questions:
- CBP standards require that detainees “should generally not be held for longer than 72 hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities. Every effort must be made to hold detainees for the least amount of time required for their processing, transfer, release, or repatriation as appropriate and as operationally feasible.” What are you doing to ensure these standards are being met, especially for detained children? What additional resources, if any, do you need in order to meet these standards?
- Congress just passed a $4.5 billion supplemental funding bill. I acknowledge that it took Congress nearly two months from your first request to provide additional funds, but now that you have them, how do you plan to use this money to alleviate the suffering at the southern border?
- The supplemental funding bill allocates $793 million to CBP for the establishment, operation, and improvement of migrant care and processing facilities. How, specifically, do you plan to use this money? What standards will you use for the construction and operations of these facilities?
- The supplemental funding bill allocates $112 million to CBP for medical care and basic items such as clothing, baby formula, and hygiene products. What assurances can you provide that the supplemental funding for these necessities won’t be repurposed for other, non-essential items or expenses?
- I am concerned that your department’s coordination with non-profit organizations is lacking, particularly in comparison to 2014. What is your plan to leverage non-profits that are able and willing to help, to the greatest extent possible?
Without answers to these questions, it will be hard to understand — and explain to my constituents — the situation at the border. Many of my constituents believe that the conditions we see at the border are by design, as a disturbing — and ineffective — attempt to dissuade other migrants from arriving. I deeply hope that is not the case, and that you, as a seasoned, career public servant, can clarify these issues with your prompt response.
Member of Congress