With the nation’s illegal immigration crisis reaching potentially catastrophic proportions, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a four-page memo in March seeking urgent congressional action.
“We need additional temporary facilities as soon as possible in order to process arriving aliens, especially those entering illegally between ports of entry,” wrote Nielsen.
“We are witnessing the real-time dissolution of the immigration system,” she added.
When the administration announced plans to expand bed-space at the one remaining temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, lawmakers predictably vociferously opposed the move.
“Exploding the child detention population at a facility that is already inadequately staffed and regulated is cruel, irresponsible and invites neglect,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) in an April 2 statement.
Wasserman Schultz was right in stating that increasing the number of beds from 1,350 to 2,350 would constitute a 140 percent increase in child bed capacity in just four months. What she failed to mention is there has been a 300 percent increase in apprehensions of people crossing as part of families compared with 2018.
Or that in a five-month period ending on Feb. 28, Border Patrol officers detained more than 268,000 illegal immigrants – and more than 76,000 were apprehended in February alone.
But rather than find a way to assist DHS, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), manage the influx, Wasserman-Schultz is content to complicate their job by seeking publicity and her political aims.
The lawmaker and two of her fellow Florida Democratic colleagues demanded access to the Homestead facility under the auspices of oversight and when denied entry, they claimed HHS was violating the law.
In a joint statement, the congresswomen claimed being denied entry “would not only be a breach of transparency and confidence in the care provided there, it would violate the law.”
Their letter was followed by one from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar “demanding” he permit them to enter the Homestead facility as “their right as Members of Congress under the law we passed last year, signed by the President.”
The law to which they are referring is a provision included in last year’s HHS appropriations bill which prohibits funds “from being used to prevent a Member of Congress from entering, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any U.S. facility used for maintaining custody of or otherwise housing unaccompanied alien children.”
But funds were not being used in such a manner. HHS confirmed the members were denied access, but also provided context that the Democrats omitted.
“We have had significant interest for facility visits. To ensure a facility visit does not interfere with the safety and well-being of our [children], we require a minimum two-week notification at the convenience and availability of the facility. This has been policy since 2015,” read a statement from department to the Miami Herald.
“It meets our current statutory obligation to provide members of Congress with facility access. Indeed, most members of Congress who have sought tours this year have worked with us collaboratively and without objection to schedule tours under the policy,” added an HHS official.
With their visit denied, the congresswoman opted for second-best by holding a press conference outside the Homestead facility continuing to insist that no notification is required and that HHS is breaking the law.
But oversight is not really their aim. Closing down any and all detention centers is. In the tweeted words of Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the center must “comply with the spirit of the Flores settlement” otherwise “this facility must be shut down.”
In addition, Wasserman Schultz said upon her return to Washington, they would take legal action against the shelter for denial of access. Democrats claim to be engaged congressional oversight, but all they are doing is ensuring that the loopholes in immigration law creating the need for detention centers remain in place. And that will further burden an overwhelmed system and all who work in it, which is to the benefit of no one.