Cantwell, Merkley, Democratic Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Stop Cruel, Neglectful Treatment of Children at the Border

Cantwell: “The appalling treatment of detainees must end”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and more than three dozen of their Senate Democratic colleagues in introducing legislation to put an end to the Trump administration’s cruel and neglectful treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border. The legislation reforms how children fleeing persecution are treated between the moment they arrive at our border to claim asylum and the ultimate resolution of their asylum case.

“The appalling treatment of detainees must end, and Congress has to demand accountability,” Cantwell said.

Specifically, the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act would create clear, non-negotiable standards for the treatment of children in America’s care, including:

  • Ending family separations, except when authorized by a state court or child welfare agency, or when Customs and Border Protection and an independent child welfare specialist agree that a child is a trafficking victim, is not the child of an accompanying adult, or is in danger of abuse or neglect;
  • Setting minimum health and safety standards for children and families in Border Patrol Stations;
    • The bill requires access to hygiene products including toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, regular nutritious meals, and a prompt medical assessment by trained medical providers.
    • The bill requires that children receive three meals a day that meet USDA nutrition standards;
    • The bill prevents for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities.
      • It ensures that temporary influx facilities are state-licensed, meet Flores standards, and are not used to house children indefinitely.
      • It expands alternatives to detention and the successful Family Case Management Program.
      • It removes roadblocks to placing unaccompanied children with sponsors by lowering case manager caseloads, mandating lower staffing ratios, and ending the information sharing agreement between ORR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
        • These provisions would ensure that children are moved out of detention centers and into community-based settings—usually sponsored by family members—as soon as possible.
        • They also ensure unaccompanied children have access to legal counsel and continue to be placed in a non-adversarial setting for their initial asylum case review.

Additionally, the legislation would provide resources to non-profit centers that are helping to provide humanitarian assistance and improve public oversight of the conditions children are being held in by allowing members of Congress and their staff, along with credentialed press (without cameras), to visit any facility with 24 hours of notice.

Last week, Senator Cantwell called for Acting Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan to testify before Congress and give answers about the mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-Mexico border. She has also joined colleagues to prevent the separation of children from their families, pressed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on family reunification in a committee hearing, and called for investigations into conditions at the Northwest Detention Center.

A section-by-section breakdown of the legislation is available HERE and a one-pager is available HERE.