Editor’s Note: U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris joined Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), parents, advocates, and caregivers at a press conference on May 23 to demand the Department of Homeland Security stop separating children from their families at the border. The following are remarks from Senator Harris:
So this is about a number of issues that include, really, the values that we have as Americans in terms of the responsibility and role of government, and the role we should be playing on an issue like this. And let’s be very clear: government should be in the business of keeping families together, not tearing them apart. But that’s not what we’re seeing in terms of the apparent priorities of this Administration.
This Administration has clearly decided that they’re going to attack women, children, and their families. You can look at several policies that make this clear. One, you look at the fact that it has been widely reported that the Department of Homeland Security has separated 700 children from their parents at the border since October of 2017. It’s been reported that over 100 of those children were under four-years-old. Four-years-old. Not even at an age where they can attend kindergarten. Separated from their families.
You can look at the fact that this Administration has changed the policies around what should happen with pregnant women, in terms of detention. It used to be the policy that there was a presumption that pregnant women should not be detained and should be put in less restrictive situations. But clearly, that is no longer a thought that this Administration has about what should be done in terms of the needs of pregnant women, when the Administration changed the policy in a way that undoubtedly will result in more pregnant women being detained. The OIG and the GAO have also reported that pregnant women are also receiving insufficient medical care and attention in these detention facilities. They have outlined situations where pregnant women are experiencing dehydration and even miscarriages.
The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed in on this topic, and what they have said is that family separation causes irreparable harm. It disrupts a child’s brain architecture and affects long and short term health.
Let’s look at another policy. There are reports that the Department of Homeland Security is looking at decreasing the standard of care for children in detention facilities, and standards of care that relate to the type of meals that children must eat in order to be healthy, and the kind of recreation that they should have in order, again, to be healthy.
And then the fourth piece that makes it very clear, in terms of the policies of this Administration and priorities around children, are the fact that they’ve rescinded DACA. We’ve talked about that extensively, and who these young people are, and how they should be treated in terms of keeping a promise to them that this Administration has failed to do.
There is also a component of this that must recognize that these policies are not without consequence, not only in terms of families being currently separated, not only in terms of detention facilities right now and where these families will be held and housed. It’s also about trauma, and what will be potentially life-long impact in terms of trauma. In fact, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed in on this topic, and what they have said is that family separation causes irreparable harm. It disrupts a child’s brain architecture, and affects long and short term health. So there are potentially lifelong consequences to these children from the policies of this Administration that clearly are not about caring about children and the least among us.
I’m proud to be joined with Rep. Jayapal and we are together sponsoring legislation that is named the “Detention Overnight, Not Expansion, Act,” the DONE Act. It will do three things. One, there will put a moratorium on the expansion of detention facilities. There will be a moratorium on the expansion or construction of new facilities. Two, we will increase oversight of ICE facilities by the Office of the Inspector General and three, the reduction of detention beds by 50%, and we will do that by creating more successful and less costly alternatives to detention.
Again, this is about our children, and families, and whether we’re going to be a compassionate government or a cruel government. And I think we’re better than this. I wish the Administration understood that.
By Kamala D. Harris
Kamala D. Harris a United States Senator for California.