Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Grace Meng's office
Congresswoman Grace Meng stands outside the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, on June 23.

While the separation of families at the U.S./Mexico border may have been halted, one Queens Congress member said there is a lack of guidance among immigration officials as to how to reunite those who were already split up after a recent visit to immigration facilities in Texas.

Congresswoman Grace Meng — representing a large portion of northern Queens — traveled to McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, on June 23 to tour the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center and the Port Isabel Detention Center to see where immigrant children were being held and speak to mothers who have been separated from their children.

One of her biggest takeaways from the visit, Meng told QNS on June 25, is that preventing family separation going forward is not enough.

“It’s going to take more than signing a piece of paper,” Meng said. “We know [President Donald Trump] signed the order, but from our visit it has not trickled down to the actual agents and the people in charge of working with them. There is little guidance on how families will be reunited.”

Meng’s visit came as a followup to a letter she sent to the president on June 20 requesting that his executive order to ensure that families no longer get separated at the border also include a statement describing how recently separated families will be reunited.

While families have been separated at the border under past presidents on occasion, a “zero tolerance” policy enacted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April to prosecute all adults who illegally cross the border resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents or guardians, according to multiple reports.

The Congresswoman described the situation inside the McAllen facility as “very eerie,” as the scene of children being housed inside chain-link fences, lying on ground pads with space blankets that she had seen on the internet proved to be true. The children had just been fed lunch, and Meng said she was able to touch a carton of milk to make sure that it was cold.

The McAllen facility is approximately 55,000 square feet with adequate medical equipment as well, but officials did not give a reason for why the children are housed the way they are, Meng said. There was also a separate area for infant children under the age of 3, the Congresswoman said, where parents were allowed to remain with them for the time being.

Boys and girls were separated by sex, Meng said, and although many of them were sitting and “staring into space” unsure of their fate, they were being treated well as far as she could tell. The border patrol agents are doing their jobs despite the lack of guidance, Meng said.

“It was just very heartbreaking to see that,” Meng said. “No one is talking to them or touching them or hugging them, and it doesn’t portray the values we all share as Americans.”

At the Port Isabel Detention Center, Meng had the opportunity to meet with approximately 30 mothers who had been separated from their children after crossing the border, and that was even harder to see, she said. The mothers were able to tell Meng what they went through on their journeys, and most of them had not spoken to their kids and had no idea were they were.

Most of the mothers’ main concern, Meng said, is that they don’t know who is looking after their child, and that their child won’t be able to explain how they’re being treated because they don’t understand English.

The story that stood out to Meng the most was that of a mother who was allowed to stay with her 5-month-old child at first because she was still nursing, but one morning the child was taken away from her.

“Regardless of how you feel about immigration, I think we can all agree that infants or 2-year-olds shouldn’t be separated from their parents in a strange country,” Meng said.

Upon her return to Queens, Meng said that is the message she hopes will ring true with her constituents. She also plans to keep representing those in her district who are confronted with controversial immigration policies.


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