The conditions facing immigrants held in detention centers are awful, are worsened by the Trump administration and demand attention, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said on Tuesday, following a weekend trip to inspect two border facilities.
Suozzi, whose district stretches from Queens to Huntington, along with 15 other House Democrats inspected and toured the detention centers in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, which are holding Central American migrants seeking asylum. They also spoke with families about their experiences and what can be done to help.
In a Tuesday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Suozzi said the detention centers were crowded with “hundreds and hundreds of people.” He could hear children were crying and coughing in one area, he said, and saw men lined up and sleeping on concrete in another area.
(Photos from the McAllen facility courtesy of Rep. Tom Suozzi’s office)
“My recent trip to the border makes it clear that this issue is incredibly complicated and has been for decades,” Suozzi said in a separate statement on Tuesday. “The policies and rhetoric from this administration have exacerbated the problem, permeating a culture of fear that forces many immigrants further into the shadows.”
Suozzi said Congress must “address the current humanitarian crisis at the border,” work to secure the border “in a smart and effective way,” and help stabilize El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which account for 90 percent of current immigrants.
He also called for protecting the legal status of so-called Dreamers, people who were brought into this country as minors without documentation, and of others with temporary protected status. President Donald Trump has moved to remove protections for Dreamers instituted by President Barack Obama, and the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue.
The immigration system, Suozzi said in the statement, is “broken.”
Suozzi, in his interview on “Morning Joe,” also commented on Trump’s attacks on four progressive Democratic congresswomen, also known as “the squad”: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Trump falsely said they “came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” and suggested they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Omar was born in Somalia and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was 8. They lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years and came to the United States when she was 12. At 17, Omar became a U.S. citizen. The other three congresswomen were born in the United States.
Trump has doubled – if not tripled – down on his comments in several tweets since then, calling them “anti-Israel, anti USA, pro-terrorist” and saying, “I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!”
Suozzi said the president’s comments were “racist and un-American,” and follow a pattern of using division to distract from important issues.
“We need to make the humanitarian crisis at our southern border priority no. 1. The president has, once again, shifted the conversation away from important policy issues toward a racial divide in our country,” Suozzi said. “I don’t always agree with all the politics of the squad, but today I want to be an honorary member of the squad.”
Suozzi defended his recent vote for a $4.6 billion border aid measure in the “Morning Joe” interview, saying that money for basic services was slated to run out and House members couldn’t afford to have a “political food fight.”
Moderates had pushed for the bill, passed by the Senate 84-8, which some House Democrats and progressives said did not go far enough in protecting migrants and preventing the Trump administration from spending money in ways they opposed.
Nearly $2.9 billion of it is slated to assist the Department of Health and Human Services in providing care for migrants. Another big chunk – $1.3 billion – goes to the Department of Homeland Security to improve conditions in the border facilities.
The bill passed in the House of Representatives 305 to 102, with 176 Republicans and 129 Democrats in favor. Ninety-five Democrats and seven Republicans voted against the measure.