Pelosi, Democrats visit immigration holding facilities, blast Trump for child separations

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, right, speaks at a news conference in front of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in near the Mexico border in San Diego on Monday, June 18, 2018.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune )

A group of congressional Democrats lead by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced President Trump on Monday after visiting a facility in San Diego County where immigrant children separated from their parents are held.

“It’s a heartbreaking, barbaric issue that could be changed in a moment by the President of the United States rescinding his action,” Pelosi said at a press event. “It so challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed, and it must be changed immediately.”

The visit was part of an expanding campaign by Democrats to attack the president’s policy of splitting up families caught entering the country illegally, with lawmakers on Sunday joining protests at detention facilities in New Jersey and Texas.


San Diego representatives Juan Vargas and Susan Davis, as well as roughly another dozen lawmakers, joined Pelosi in touring Casa San Diego, an El Cajon facility for unaccompanied children who arrive at the southern border.

“I saw a child who looked like me,” Vargas said. “I looked at him and thought, ‘That could have been me when I was four years old,’ and what would I have thought if they ripped me away from my mom and dad.”

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents in April and May, according to federal authorities.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the administration’s strategy on Monday in New Orleans at the annual conference of the National Sheriff’s Association.

“There’s an important conversation happening in this country about whether we want to be a country of laws or a country without borders,” Sessions said. “It is one of the reasons the America people elected Donald Trump, and that was to end the lawlessness at our southern border.”


In May, Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy for those apprehended at the border. The new rules send parents to criminal court while their children go into facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Once the parents move to immigration custody, it can be difficult to reunite with their children as they await immigration hearings.

Sessions called the policy of previous administrations that allowed many migrant parents to remain with their children a “loophole” that encouraged families to make dangerous trips through the desert along the border with Mexico.

“We do not want to separate children from their parents,” he said. “We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully either, placing those children at risk.”

Immigrant right’s advocates say that the Trump administration’s main goal is not the safety of children but significantly limiting immigration, as evidenced by a recent policy change that denies asylum to people fleeing domestic and gang violence. Under the revised policy, immigrants must be fleeing state persecution to qualify for asylum status.

Democratic congress members in San Diego on Monday flatly rejected the administration’s logic.

“It’s just not true,” Vargas said. “The reality is that we’re using cruelty here, not to prevent people from coming but just to be cruel. I don’t think it does anything frankly to stop people from coming. You’ve heard the conditions they’re living under.”

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, echoed that sentiment: “When these kids are growing up in Central America they’re given a choice. At a certain age, you either join a gang, MS-13 that the President talks about, or you die. They pick a third, which is go north in search of possibly a survival alternative.”

The Trump administration has said the new policy is also a way to prevent people from fleeing authorities while awaiting their court dates. Between 2012 and 2016, about 140,000 people failed to show up for immigration hearing hearings, about 20 percent of all cases.

So many immigrants are now being detained that asylum seekers are being placed in federal prisons rather than Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, which are not designed to hold people as punishment. For example, about 1,000 immigrants are being transferred to a medium-security prison in Victorville, California.

House Republicans are now making tweaks to a so-called compromise bill on immigration reform that would allow many immigrant children to be detained with their parents.

The legislation would also narrow asylum standards, do away with the diversity visa lottery and eliminate some types of family-based immigration. Democrats have vowed to oppose the bill.

Twitter: @jemersmith

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