Illinois Democrats denounce government’s role in migrant children’s death near border


Daily file photo by Paige Leskin

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin demanded an investigation into conditions of detention facilities near the border.

Julia Esparza, City Editor

Illinois lawmakers have responded to the deaths of migrant children in custody near the Mexican-American border by demanding answers and an investigation.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Chicago) and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Naperville) all separately denounced the government’s role in the deaths of six migrant children who died in U.S. custody over the past eight months. The deaths have called into question the conditions of these facilities and treatment of migrants in detention.

Durbin, along with 24 Senators, called on the International Committee of the Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security acting inspector general to investigate DHS Customs and Border Protection detention facilities at the southwest border. According to the letter, also signed by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the lawmakers asked for a probe into conditions for “minors, family units, and other vulnerable individuals.”

“The ICRC has played a critical role in ensuring that migrant detention facilities around the world comply with international human rights standards,” the letter stated. “We ask that you immediately launch an investigation into CBP’s facilities for detained migrants on the U.S. southwest border.”

In early April, Durbin visited a Border Patrol facility in El Paso, Texas where he witnessed overcrowded cells that he described as an “icebox” in a Chicago Tribune commentary.

On Tuesday, García, along with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, held a press conference to condemn the government’s actions and call for an independent investigation. The caucus also announced its intentions to introduce legislation that would require all detained migrants receive basic necessities such as medical care and shelter.

García called the conditions of the facilities “unacceptable and inhumane.” He added the immigration and detention system is broken and said the Trump administration is making no “visible” progress to address the issue.

“This deadly treatment of migrants is un-American,” García said in a news release. “We cannot allow the Trump Administration to dismiss these deaths as the new normal. This is an intentional strategy that Attorney General Sessions introduced, explaining he wanted the family separation policy to serve as a deterrent to other immigrants considering crossing the border.”

Last year, the administration began the policy of separating children from parents once they reach the border. In that time, more than 2,500 children were separated from their parents as part of an effort to deter further illegal immigration into the country. The policy was denounced as inhumane by many and ended in June 2018.

Underwood likewise accused the administration of failing to provide basic necessities to migrants held in Border Patrol facilities. During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday, Underwood questioned Kevin McAleenan, the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“At this point, with five children dead and thousands separated, it’s a policy choice being made by this administration, and it’s inhumane,” Underwood said.

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