The Rhode Island Democrat was describing what he saw after visiting immigration detention centers on the Texas/Mexico border this weekend where President Donald Trump’s family separation policy is playing out as a moral and political crisis before America’s and the world’s eyes.
“It is horrifying to see young children behind a chain link enclosure,” he said. “There’s no furniture. They are sitting on the floor, a few of them have mats, looking afraid, not sure of what is happening to them. It’s disgraceful. No child should be in that kind of facility ever and certainly children who are fleeing violence.”
Cicilline joined a congressional delegation that included senators Jeff Merkeley, Oregon, and Chris Van Hollen, Maryland, and representatives Peter Welch, Vermont, Mark Pocan, Wisconsin, Shelia Jackson-Lee, Texas, and Vincente Gonzalez, who represents the Texas district where the facilities are located.
— Daniella Diaz (@DaniellaMicaela) June 17, 2018
“Every legislator in Washington should have seen those children and talked to those mothers,” Cicilline said, and I think they would understand what we are doing – what’s being done in our name – is un-American and needs to stop and doesn’t reflect the basic values of this country.”
The group visited a children’s shelter in Brownsville that used to be a WalMart, and a processing center in McAllen, where Cicilline and Van Hollen were prevented from recording video outside the facility, among other stops.
“When I looked at these children and thought they that were placed there by actions of the federal government I was horrified,” Cicilline said. “This is being done in our name. This is being done in the name of the American people.”
The group spoke with 10 mothers who had been separated from their children. “They could barely get through the story without completely sobbing uncontrollably recounting how their children were taken away or that they didn’t know where their child was anymore,” Cicilline said.
“I said to them one of the reasons we are here is because we think this policy is a violation of U.S. law and that it undermines the values of our country and that we are going to do everything we can to persuade the administration to stop this policy and that there were lots of people in the country that do not agree with it and that we’re going to do everything we could to prevent the president from continuing this policy.”
He explained he feels the policy violates U.S. law because it is “basically extinguishing your right to have your asylum application heard. They are using ripping away their children to discourage them from making an asylum claim, which our law provides them.”
Cicilline said the idea that Trump would separate families for political advantage was “despicable.”
“If you’re imprisoning children and ripping them away from their parents to use them as a bargaining chip to get your wall or to get some other immigration legislation…” he said, leaving the sentence unfinished as if he didn’t know quite what to compare that to. “Children should never be used as a bargaining chip in legislative negotiations. I don’t think you can ever enter into negotiations when you are imprisoning children and ripping them away from their mothers as a bargaining chip. This doesn’t require any negotiations. This is a policy they put in place, they should stop it immediately.”
As for broader solutions to immigration policy, Cicilline said the House could pass bipartisan bills right now if Speaker Paul Ryan would only allow members to vote on them.
“The answers are out there,” he said. “We have good bipartisan compromises. If they came to the floor, they would pass. The Republican speaker just will not bring anything to the floor for a vote.”
After I spoke with Cicilline on Tuesday, Republicans in Congress began exploring ways to end Trump’s family separation policy.
“I think the more their constituents learn about the process the more horrified they are going to be and [Republicans] are going to feel more pressure,” Cicilline said, prior to that development. “As President Lincoln said ‘public sentiment is everything’ so we need to keep the pressure on so that they understand their constituents are watching this.”