Cicilline: Policy is ‘contrary to our founding values’

Providence Journal
Sunday, June 17, 2018

By Donita Naylor Journal Staff Writer

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, traveling Sunday in a van with two senators and three other representatives, visited a border patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas, the Hildago port of entry at a bridge between the United States and Mexico, and a detention center for children in a converted former Walmart in Brownsville known as Casa Padre.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, traveling Sunday in a van with two senators and three other representatives, visited a border patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas, the Hildago port of entry at a bridge between the United States and Mexico, and a detention center for children in a converted former Walmart in Brownsville known as Casa Padre.

At the McAllen processing center, people were being held in 12-foot by 12-foot pens marked off with chain-link fencing. People sat on the floor, Cicilline said, a few had “skinny mats,” and there were “entire areas that are just children.”

Cicilline, D-R.I., said the longstanding practice has been that asylum seekers would be released until their claim could be heard. Now, he said, “they’re basically arresting everyone that comes through without the proper paperwork.”

Would-be asylum seekers are criminally charged, he said, and separated from their children. Judges sentence the adults to time served, “but they don’t know where their children are,” Cicilline said by cellphone on the way to Brownsville.

It is “clearly to punish people who come to the border seeking asylum and to use the policy of separating parents from children as a way to discourage asylum requests.”

The policy is “basically extinguishing” asylum claims of people fleeing “gang violence or a number of other conditions,” he said.

At McAllen, the delegation was told, 1,147 children who have been separated from their parents are detained.

The delegation met a woman who had left Honduras with her mother. They were fleeing a gang that had killed the woman’s uncle and threatened to kill the woman and her mother for being unable to pay back a loan.

The woman had been pregnant when she left and had since had the baby. She didn’t know whether her infant would be taken from her.

Cicilline said he never thought he would witness, “in our own country,” violations “contrary to our founding values.” And using the Bible to defend the government’s actions, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions did last week, quoting Romans 13, was “despicable,” Cicilline said.

Later in the evening, Cicilline visited the Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, run by “a very reputable agency that has been providing services for about 30 years.”

He said it was crowded. Originally intended to house 300 children, the facility now holds 1,500, mostly ages 15 to 17. “They looked like they were okay,” Cicilline said, “doing recreation, some were eating, they were properly dressed.”

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