By Catherine Cortez Masto
Editor’s Note: U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) called on the Trump Administration to release a concrete plan to reunite all the families that have been torn apart at our Southern border. Below are her remarks:
I want to share with my colleagues and the American people what I witnessed on a visit to a couple of immigration detention facilities on our Southern Border, and to share the stories of people, children, and infants being held there.
On a visit to an adult detention facility, I sat down with a group of six mothers whose children had been taken from them.
One of them was named Ana. She has a five-year-old daughter. After witnessing a brutal murder in her neighborhood and receiving death threats, she decided to leave the country to keep her daughter safe.
The Trump Administration is also saying they’re having trouble locating some of the parents. Part of the problem is that at least twelve of the parents with children under five years old have already been deported! Can you imagine that? Babies who can’t even speak have no clue where their moms and dads went. And they might never know.
She traveled 3,000 miles to get to our Southern border. And when she finally arrived, she thought, “I’m finally safe. I made it. I’m going to tell them who I am and why I’m here.”
She flagged down Customs and Border Patrol Agents, thinking they would help her.
But when she did, CBP officials arrested her. They took her into custody and separated her from her daughter. Ana’s daughter was put on a bus and driven hundreds of miles away. And as Ana was telling this story, every single one of the mothers began to cry. They had all experienced the same thing.
Each one of the women I spoke with had children under the age of 12 who were taken away from them. Their stories were the same; they had all faced horrific gang violence and abuse in their home country. And fled to protect their family.
They had been raped and tortured. They saw loved ones killed before their very eyes.
Another one of the women I spoke with, Griselda, explained that in her community, the gangs expect extortion payments every week from business owners like her. If you can’t pay, they come to your house and kidnap your children, or rape them, and kill them.
One day gang members came and started threatening her son. She knew, in that moment, she had two options: stay and watch her son die or pack up her children and run.
I asked the group of women, why didn’t you go to the police? They explained that the police are just as corrupt as the gangs. In their countries, there’s no rule of law. There are no protections. If you want to save your children’s lives, your only option is to run.
And that’s what these women did. They came to the U.S. expecting to find freedom and protection. Instead, they were thrown in jail, and their children were loaded on buses and driven away.
All these parents want to know, now, is: Where are their children?
When they asked me, I told them I didn’t have the information they needed, that I too was asking those same questions. But I promised to take their stories back with me to Washington D.C. to share them with the American people.
Because of President Trump’s inhumane family separation policy, we have almost 3,000 children separated from their parents.
Their moms and dads just want to have their children back in their arms.
Secretary Azar testified recently that there is “no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located.”
Well, that is absolutely false. I spoke with ten mothers and fathers who have no clue where their children are. They looked at me with tears running down their faces. They pleaded with me to help them find their children.
This Administration gave no thought to the damage inflicted on these families. And they clearly had no plan for how they would reunite them.
We have three different entities working to reunify these families. Two are under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and one is under the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement. But none of them are working together!
As a result, the Trump Administration has missed its court-ordered deadline to reunite young children under five with their parents.102 children under five years old are waiting to be reunited with their parents, but as far as we know, only four families have been reunited.
The Trump Administration has been ordered to reunite up to 3,000 children with their parents by July 26th—but they’re on track to miss that deadline too.
In the midst of all this, HHS officials discovered that they have been holding a toddler who may be a U.S. citizen in detention for over a year! How could this be possible?
How could the reunification process be so erratic, inefficient, and slow?
This Administration has been making excuses left and right, trying to pin the blame on anyone but themselves.
They’ve suggested that the reunification process is slow because too many Members of Congress are taking tours of these detention facilities! I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard that.
When I tried to enter a children’s detention facility, they locked me out! I wasn’t allowed in!
I was there to find out how taxpayer money was being spent and how the kids were being treated. But the facilities manager slammed a door in my face and gave me the number for a communications director!
And with a handful of exceptions, most of my colleagues have been turned away, too.
The Trump Administration is also saying they’re having trouble locating some of the parents. Part of the problem is that at least twelve of the parents with children under five years old have already been deported!
Can you imagine that? Babies who can’t even speak have no clue where their moms and dads went. And they might never know.
The Trump Administration can’t pin the blame for this on Congress, Democrats, or anyone else.
They’re missing their deadlines for one reason and one reason only: because they never made a plan to reunite these families. They never intended to. They didn’t have a plan two weeks ago, when I went down to the border. And they don’t have one now.
They created this chaos with no plan to put the broken pieces back together. They’ve had to start from scratch trying to locate parents and children detained across the country. And now we are hearing heartbreaking stories of reunification. Toddlers who do not recognize their mothers anymore.
The physiological trauma they’ve inflicted on these children will last a lifetime.
So today, I’m calling on President Trump to finally do his job and provide us with a concrete plan. I want to see results and won’t stop fighting until every child has been reunited with their parents.
Mr. President, stop making excuses. Stop blaming Democrats for the crisis you created.
President Trump and his allies say that Democrats want open borders. But this is not about open borders. I support strong, secure borders. I’ve spent my career fighting to uphold the rule of law.
We need a plan to reunite these families because this is about our values. This is about human rights. This is about who we are as a country. And separating families is not who we are.
We do not tear babies out of their mother’s arms. We’ve always had a guiding principle when it comes to children. We do no harm. Whether they’re Honduran children, or Guatemalan children, or Salvadoran children, or American children. We do no harm.
And so I call on President Trump: abandon your inhumane zero tolerance immigration policy.
Abandon the heartless decision to separate families.
We should be looking for humane, cost-effective alternatives to detention for families fleeing violence.
We do not need the Department of Defense to build internment camps for babies, toddlers, and kids.
Locking-up families who are seeking asylum under laws we have put in place will be a moral stain on our country for generations to come.
President Trump, the American people demand that you explain how you plan to reunite these families that you’ve scarred forever and ripped apart. Work with Democrats to solve the refugee crisis in Central America. Don’t treat innocent children and their parents as political pawns. Don’t turn your back on everything this country stands for.
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada).