By Carlotta Mohamed
After visiting the border separating the United States and Mexico, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) introduced two bills last week to improve conditions for children who have been separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Meng traveled to the Texas border June 23 and met with 30 mothers at the Port Isabel U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center in Brownsville, and toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station and Centralized Processing Center in McAllen, where detained children in cages were sleeping on the floor with tin foil like blankets covering them.
“The mothers were crying and devastated,” Meng said. “Most of them had not talked to their kids for weeks and didn’t know where their kids were. A few of them had talked to their kids but they did not know which state they were in or who was actually caring for them.”
Visiting the children at the processing center, Meng said she “tried very hard to be strong for them,” and that the images and sounds of the children crying will forever haunt her.
“I saw infants as young as two months old who are living in these conditions,” Meng said. “As a mom of two young boys I know it’s not normal for kids to be sitting at one place for hours and days at a time, not being able to be active,” Meng said.
Although President Donald Trump signed the executive order June 20 to stop separation of families at the border, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents don’t exactly know what the executive order means and how to apply it on the ground, Meng said.
“It is appalling that parents who had their kids ripped away from them are still separated from their children and that the president still has no concrete plan to bring them back together,” Meng said. “But while these children are detained without their parents, it is essential that the government provide them with the best care possible and that they have advocates who are on their side.” After meeting with CBP agents, who told Meng they have very little training dealing with children — and even less training dealing with children separated from their families, Meng drafted two bills to ensure the necessary training the agents need to care for the children.
Meng’s first bill, The Better Care for Kids Act, would ensure that personnel are trained to properly care for children ages 2 and under, particularly to minimize the trauma they may be experiencing.
The second, The Child Advocate Program Reauthorization Act, would reauthorize the Child Advocate Program, an initiative that appoints independent child advocates for vulnerable, alien, unaccompanied children and child trafficking victims.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced this month its desire to cover 550 minors through the program in nearly a dozen locations throughout the country, including New York, according to Meng. The authorization for the program expired in 2017.
Meng said her bills would ensure that children are afforded vital protections.
“It is critical that the best interests of these children be served,” Meng said.
Both bills have been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and are awaiting further action.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha