Solving the refugee crisis on the U.S./Mexico border will require cooperation and compassion, according to Congressman Tom Suozzi, who represents northeast Queens.
Along with a bipartisan delegation of his colleagues, including Long Island Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, Suozzi traveled this weekend to the unofficial epicenter of the crisis, Tornillo, Texas. The town on the U.S./Mexico border includes many government-run and nonprofit-operated facilities housing immigrants who recently crossed the border illegally into the United States.
After Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacted a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, thousands of migrant children who crossed the U.S./Mexico border were separated from their parents and detained at Tornillo and other bordertowns. The images of children of various ages being kept in caged facilities outraged many Americans, and the backlash caused President Trump to sign an executive order last week changing the policy.
Suozzi, Rice and their colleagues in the delegation sought to see for themselves the conditions at detention centers in Tornillo. They toured the detention centers, spoke (through interpreters) with some of the children being detained there, met with those caring for the kids and also discussed border security with the U.S. Border Patrol.
The Texas trip turned out to be an “eye-opener” for Rice and Suozzi alike, as they described in a five-minute video posted to Suozzi’s Facebook account on Sunday. They made their remarks from an airport in Dallas, just prior to boarding a flight back home to New York.
“There’s no question, I think I can speak for Tom, and all of us on this trip agree, that we have to be serious about securing our border,” Rice said, “and also doing what makes us the greatest country, and why people want to come here, which is having a heart — and understanding why people want to come here to have a better life.”
“That means securing the borders as well dealing with the 11 million plus people here in this country, some of whom have been here for decades, that includes the DREAMers and so many others,” Suozzi added. “We need to move beyond all this finger-pointing, all this blame game, [and solve] a problem that we’ve faced in this country over the past 30 years.”
Suozzi said he toured one of the facilities where migrants are being held, which is being operated by the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Refugee Resettlement. While describing it as clean and “well run,” the facility includes “400 beds in tents in the middle of a very dry, hot desert.”
“What appeared to be sufficient staff with small groups of children between the ages of 13 and 17.95 percent are boys,” Suozzi wrote on Facebook. “Only 23 of several hundred are separated children and everyone else is an unaccompanied minor.”
Suozzi anticipates that the Trump administration will launch “an aggressive reunification effort over the next 10 days,” but even as the White House tries to “move on from this issue,” Suozzi said that “we should not let them forget.”
The Congressman also criticized Trump’s executive order, which would require that authorities detain families together instead of separating them, as having the potential to “cause even more problems.”
Suozzi also spoke with members of the U.S. Border Patrol, and stressed that they have some of the toughest law enforcement jobs in the country.
“Border Patrol officials are the most assaulted federal officials,” Suozzi wrote on Facebook. “They have to worry about many infectious diseases, lice, scabbard and worse. They are trying to guard against illegal entry of many desperate people. Many fleeing violence, rape, gangs, poverty and oppression, some on their own. Many using professional smugglers, coyotes, human traffickers and other illegal operations. There were about 20,000 people detained last year from the El Paso post.”
In the end, Suozzi noted that the situation cries out for cooperation among Democrats and Republicans alike. He believes that both sides of the aisle must come together to hammer out legislation that will not only increase border security but also allow for those all immigrants — including undocumented individuals already living in the U.S. — a chance to stay in America.
“This issue can be solved. We simply need to work together on a comprehensive solution,” Suozzi wrote.