(Washington, D.C.) – The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy resulted in hundreds of immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents and detained in facilities that Members of Congress and the press were initially blocked from inspecting. Amid troubling allegations that some detained children are suffering abuse, denying swift access to inspect these facilities is unacceptable.
To ensure that oversight access is not limited, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) has joined with Reps. Mark Pocan (WI-2), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), and 12 other Members of the House of Representatives in co-sponsoring the bipartisan Congressional Access to Children's Detention Facilities Act. This legislation would allow Members of Congress to visit the facilities during reasonable hours, and also ensure press access, by allowing media to accompany them on these essential inspections.
The legislation is a House companion to Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) bill, and would ensure that the constitutional duty to conduct federal government oversight is protected. Unfortunately, dozens of Members of Congress have wrongly been denied access to these facilities over the last several weeks. This legislation would ensure that never happens again.
“The American people were horrified by the separation of immigrant children from their parents, and to think these children would suffer further indignities under the care of our government is deeply disturbing,” Wasserman Schultz said. “On my initial attempt to visit a South Florida migrant child facility, Trump Administration officials wrongly prevented me from entering. I know many of my colleagues have faced similar obstacles in carrying out their oversight roles. Elected representatives must be able to inspect the conditions and treatment of these vulnerable innocents, and members of the press must be able to accompany them to ensure that the American people can be fully informed about how children are being treated with their tax dollars. It’s not just constitutional oversight that is in jeopardy when this does not occur. Children’s lives are at stake.”
“To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “After Members of Congress have been denied entry at various facilities housing children separated from their parents at the border, I joined my colleague Debbie in introducing this bill which will ensure that the people’s representatives and the press are able to visit these facilities, speak to care-givers, and ensure the U.S. is taking every step to ensure the safety and security of the innocent children. Members of Congress should never be denied access when exercising their constitutional oversight role.”
“The responsibility to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch is one of Congress’s fundamental roles,” said Shea-Porter. “Oversight is a necessary function of our democracy that ensures the checks and balances our founders envisioned remain strong. Without access to Federal facilities, it is not possible to do proper oversight. I am concerned that dozens of Members of Congress have been denied this essential access when they attempt to fulfill their Constitutional duties. This is unacceptable. We must be granted access to facilities where migrant children are being held because both we and the public must know how our government is treating the children in its care. Without this information, we cannot do our jobs and ensure that children are being treated with dignity and cared for appropriately.”