Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet this week joined a group of more than three dozen Senate Democrats in introducing the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act. This new legislation would put an end to the Trump Administration’s cruel and neglectful treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border and reform how children fleeing persecution are treated between the moment at which they arrive at our borders to claim asylum and the ultimate resolution of their asylum case.
“The inhumane treatment of children at the border is outrageous, immoral, and completely unacceptable. The Trump Administration’s failed policies have exacerbated the situation and threaten the health and well-being of vulnerable children and families. We cannot allow these dangerous policies to continue, ” said Bennet. “This legislation will ensure children and families fleeing unspeakable violence and persecution are treated with the dignity, respect, and care they deserve – and will create strong oversight to ensure those responsible are held accountable.”
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.
- Requiring children receive three meals a day that meet USDA nutrition standards.
- Ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities.
- The bill ensures that temporary influx facilities are state-licensed, meet Flores standards, and are not used to house children indefinitely.
- Expanding alternatives to detention and the successful Family Case Management Program.
- Removing 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.
- Ensuring 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-hour notice.
The legislation was led by Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). In addition to Bennet, the legislation is supported by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Following a Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report earlier this month that revealed details of dire conditions endured by children and migrants at detention facilities across the country, Bennet called on the agency to provide its plan for rectifying the administration’s unacceptable handling of the crisis on the border.