Kuster to Visit Texas to Get Answers About Detention Center Conditions

Jun 21, 2018

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending his administration’s immigration policy to separate children from their parents at the U.S. border.

Congresswoman Annie Kuster is planning to visit McAllen, Texas on Friday, where hundreds of children are being kept in a former warehouse. She spoke with All Things Considered Host Peter Biello about her trip and what’s next for immigration reform.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So now that the president says he's ending this policy, what's next? There's still more than 2,300 children remaining in detention centers separated from their parents.

Well that's the tragedy, Peter. I mean this goes to the heart of our humanity. And I just think as Americans we have more compassion than this. So, I've supported legislation that focuses on the reunification of those families and prohibits the separation of families. I'm concerned. I don't believe that these executive orders signed by the president will accomplish that. In fact, it doesn't even address the reunification of the children that have been scattered across the country, thousands of miles from their mothers.

So is there an option on the table right now to address the 2,300 children?

Sadly there's not. The Republicans are bringing forth legislation today, but it doesn't even reference the reunification. Two bills, [there's] the Goodlatte bill that significantly rolls back legal immigration, which would be bad for our economy certainly in New Hampshire, and again counter to our American values. And then [there's] the Ryan bill is sort of along the lines of the president. It opens the door for indefinite detention of families. You know, I think we need to treat people humanely and we need to get these asylum cases resolved quickly.

You and other members of Congress have signed a letter asking the White House for more information on the situation. What specifically are you looking to find out?

Well, what I'm particularly troubled by – and this is a letter signed by almost all of the women members of Congress in the House Democrats yesterday. We have so many questions. Where are the girls? We've seen photos from the government of the boys in detention, but we have not yet seen photos of where the girls are. And in particular, these tender age facilities – where are the babies and the toddlers that have been torn from their mothers? I'm a mother. This is extremely upsetting to any parent, anyone that has compassion for young children. And that's why I'm going down to the border myself tomorrow with a group of 30 women members, most of us mothers, to get answers from our federal government. This is a tragedy.

What are you hoping to accomplish in Texas?

Well again, to get answers for the American people. You know another part of this story has to do with the fact that there's no transparency. There have been members of Congress blocked from even seeing these facilities. The press has not been allowed inside to see these facilities or to film them to show the American people what our government is doing. This is very heavy handed. You think of the "Live Free or Die" state. This is not the way we project our American values to the world, and it's inhumane. We've been accused of human rights violations for separating these children from their families. And so we have a lot of questions and hope to get those answers tomorrow.

The House is set to vote on two immigration reform bills today. Do you believe it's likely that Congress will come together with some sort of agreement – both parties?

Peter, sadly I do not expect that to happen today. This should not be a partisan issue. This is a humanitarian issue that goes to the core of our American values. But the bills that are being put forth are not comprehensive immigration reform. You'll remember five years ago the Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform. And I'm very disappointed that in the House that has not been the case. We haven't had hearings. We haven't had participation of both sides, and instead my colleagues have put forth bills that have very little support in a bipartisan way.