WASHINGTON — Colorado U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican, condemned conditions at detention centers used to hold illegal immigrants along the U.S. southern border during a congressional hearing Monday.
“As a person, it pains me to see individuals in this kind of crowded condition,” Buck, a Windsor Republican, said.
A House Judiciary subcommittee held the hearing amid immigration policy disputes and warnings of planned migrant raids by federal agents, as well as tweets by President Donald Trump.
Trump defended his tweet Sunday in which he said four congresswomen of color should “go back” to their countries of origin, despite the fact only one of them was born abroad. They denounced the president’s comments as racist during a scathing press conference Monday.
Buck asked a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official during the subcommittee on immigration and citizenship hearing about how growing numbers of illegal immigrants might be straining medical and judicial systems in rural communities.
Diana Shaw, an assistant inspector general for the Homeland Security Department, did not give a detailed reply but said the consequences of surging illegal immigration are part of a “deep dive” study her agency started recently.
Preliminary reports from Homeland Security inspectors show some immigrants “standing shoulder to shoulder” with little space to lie down or move around in detention centers, she said. Others — including children — are detained longer than the three days allowed by U.S. government policy.
Buck said government reports indicate the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has risen from 2,000 per day in 2014 to somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 daily this year.
He wondered about how Customs and Border Protection agents who handle them at detention centers must be coping.
“It sounds like a very stressful situation for everybody,” Buck said.
He also said any reforms must remove incentives for illegal immigration.
“We need a multi-layered approach to a multi-layered problem,” Buck said.
Protests over unhealthy and crowded conditions included a demonstration Friday at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Aurora. It was organized by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and other advocacy groups.
The congressional hearing was intended to review some findings by the Homeland Security Department from its inspectors’ visits to Customs and Border Protection facilities in May and June.
Some of the worst conditions were found at the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley detention centers in Texas, Shaw said in her testimony.
The El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, “which has a maximum capacity of 125 detainees, had between 750 and 900 detainees onsite on the dates visited,” Shaw said.
One holding cell with a maximum capacity of 35 adults held 155 of them.
“Further, some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,” she said.
The inspectors found similar overcrowding at four of the five Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol facilities and prolonged detention at all five facilities.
“There were more than 50 [unaccompanied children] younger than 7 years old, and some of them had been in custody over two weeks while awaiting transfer,” Shaw said.
Buck put some of the blame on Democrats who did not include money to resolve what he called a “humanitarian crisis” when they proposed a $4.5 billion supplemental aid bill three weeks ago.
The legislation proposed to address illegal immigration failed to include funding to hire enough immigration judges to reduce a court backlog, raise the pay of customs agents and investigate human trafficking, Buck said.
Colorado U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Boulder Democrat, is a member of the immigration and citizenship subcommittee, but he did not speak during the hearing Monday.