U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) today introduced a bill that would end family separations, with some exceptions, and set minimum health and safety standards at U.S. Border Patrol stations where migrant children are being held.
The "Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act" would prohibit separating families except in cases of human trafficking or abuse, mandate that migrants have hygiene products such as toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, and require that medical personnel evaluate the health of all children taken into Department of Homeland Security custody within 24 hours, among other requirements.
Merkley said the bill would curtail abuses at the border by President Donald Trump's White House.
"All of the recent reports of abuse and neglect of children by this administration are horrifying the American people, but are the predictable byproduct of the racism and discrimination that drive the policies of this president and his appointees," Merkley said in a press release today. "No moral or religious tradition in the world condones hurting children to send a political message—but that is exactly what the Trump administration has done. We need a strong response to stop the cruelty at the border and ensure that our nation treats these vulnerable children as we should, with respect, dignity, and compassion."
Visits by lawyers in recent weeks have revealed squalid and inhumane conditions in these centers. Children are sleeping on cold concrete floors without bedding, overcrowding and outbreaks of the flu are common. In one Texas detention center, one girl seemed likely enough to take her own life that agents made her sleep on a nearby cot so that they could watch her, according to reporting by The New York Times and The El Paso Times.
Merkley's bill would also allow Congressional members, their staffers and credentialed press to enter these centers after providing a 24-hour notice.
Last June, Merkley live-streamed being turned away from visiting a child detention center in Brownsville, Texas, to draw attention to the Trump administration's family separation policy. This garnered national attention after the video went viral on social media. (The video has been viewed more than 2.2 million times since then.)
Oregon's senior U.S. senator, Ron Wyden, joined Merkley today as a co-sponsor of the bill. Most Senate Democrats have signed on.
"Donald Trump has shown over and over that he can't be trusted to protect and provide for the basic human needs of migrants—especially children—many who are fleeing to the United States for safety," said Wyden. "The brutal treatment of kids and families at the southern border must end. This legislation puts the guardrails in place needed to hold this monstrous administration accountable and ensure the safety and well-being of kids."