Congressman says immigation system is ‘broken’ on all fronts
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, said the difference between the U.S.-Mexico border facilities under the Trump administration versus under the Biden administration now is “night and day.”
On Wednesday, the congressman, along with other lawmakers and White House officials, toured the Carrizo Spring Influx Care Facility in Texas, which is being used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children.
Only one news reporter from NBC was able to enter the facility with the delegation, per the request of the White House.
Rep. Carbajal held a press conference Thursday to share his experience at the facility and field media questions.
When he was asked if he would call the situation at the border a crisis, Rep. Carbajal said, “I think it’s very similar, at least as we saw in the previous few years in the last administration. I think one can characterize it as a crisis if one wants to because of the need to make sure the children are not bottlenecked in our processing facilities.”
The Biden administration has yet to refer to the situation on the border as a crisis.
The Texas facility provides a place to stay for unaccompanied minors 13 to 17 years of age. The congressman said 766 children were at the facility on Wednesday, and he was informed that the capacity is 952 children in hard-sided structures. He added that more 80% of the children that are currently placed in the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities, including Carrizo, are in the process of being unified because they have a family member or parent that’s available to provide that unification.
The other 10% to 20% of children will be transferred to another foster care facility.
“The two things that are needed are getting more beds stood up and more staffing so that they can provide a more orderly process by which these children can be processed and not be bottlenecked from the initial intake,” Rep. Carbajal said. He added, “It’s my understanding that the majority of those reaching our borders are coming through the Texas area, but I believe there are some on the California border.”
In response to a question from the News-Press, Rep. Carbajal addressed the fact that the White House has been requesting limited media access to these facilities, saying more transparency is needed.
“I would echo that and I have echoed that to the administration,” he said. “Let’s make no mistake about it — it (the situation at the border) was in shambles. This facility was stood up, I think on the 19th or the 20th of February. It’s taken that long to shore up a lot of these facilities. No action was taken until the last two months.
“I think they’re just running 100 miles an hour to set up these facilities and that’s been their focus, but I believe, obviously, the more transparency and the more access by the media is always healthy. I think it’s just important to remind everyone that they’re doing the best they can with what they inherited, which was chaotic at best.”
Rep. Carbajal described the state of the Carrizo facility by comparing it to the Tornillo facility in El Paso, Tx., he visited in 2018 during Donald Trump’s presidency. He called Tornillo a “tent city” upon his visit.
The biggest differences the congressman listed between Carrizo and Tornillo included: a hardscape dormitory versus tents; better restrooms; more “robust communication”; medical physicals provided within the first 48 hours of childrens’ facility versus what he believed to be a lack thereof at Tornillo; a full education program versus just an education assessment; background checks for all staff that he doesn’t believe occurred at Tornillo; the opportunity for him to speak to the children, which he was not afforded last time (but he broke protocol anyway); and no separation of children from their parents, among others.
He added, though, that the majority of the children, and adults, coming in this wave are alone.
Rep. Carbajal spoke to some of the children at the Carrizo facility on Wednesday, and while he said that he and his colleagues were advised not to ask too much to avoid triggering difficult emotions, the congressman just asked how they’re doing, how they’re being treated, what their mental and physical health is like and if they’re getting the services they need.
“I was heartened to hear, overwhelmingly, everybody say that they liked all the services and the food and everything being provided,” Rep. Carbajal said. “I really pressed them and said, ‘Can you name one thing you don’t like?’ And I didn’t hear one answer in the negative.
“I did ask them, ‘What made you take this dangerous journey to come here?’ And they all said two things: ‘To get a better education’ and ‘To pursue a better way of life.’ I think the better way of life is synonymous with what most immigrants who have come to our country since the inception of the country (have said), keeping with that tradition.”
Minors are only allowed to spend 72 hours at the facilities, though news reports and the congressman said this standard is not being met. NPR reported last week that hundreds of the young migrants have spent more than 240 hours at the facilities. In addition, there was a 30% increase in minors being held at these facilities in just one week.
“The system is being overwhelmed,” Rep. Carbajal said. “They need to address those bottlenecks in these facilities as soon as possible. And no children should be held in any type of facility longer than they need to be. That’s always a concern. We need to do everything possible to be humane and to process these children and make sure they get into a better environment.”
The Biden administration notified Congress on Wednesday that it will open a new 3,000-person facility in San Antonio and a 1,400-person site at the San Diego convention center strictly for women. HHS is opening a second site in Carrizo Springs and exploring housing teenagers at military bases in San Antonio and El Paso, according to the Associated Press.
“The fact of the matter is: we have a broken immigration system on all fronts. The policies that pertain to these particular young people coming to the border is also broken. We need to fix that as soon as possible,” Rep. Carbajal said. “The Biden administration has been in place for two months trying to put up a system that was dismantled by the previous administration. And that doesn’t mean this administration doesn’t need to move quicker, smarter and expedite things. That’s the message I have been giving the administration as well.”