WASHINGTON— Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) secured language increasing transparency and oversight at immigration detention centers in the U.S. House of Representative’s fiscal year 2019 Homeland Security Appropriations bill. Specifically, these provisions aim to improve conditions and procedures, and expedite immigrant family reunifications. This bill passed full committee markup and is scheduled for a vote on the House and Senate Floors later this fall.
Bringing Clarity to Family Separation Practices and Procedures
Congressman Cuellar is uniquely familiar with the lack of clarity regarding family separation procedures and how this has led to many unnecessarily separations. To address this issue, Congressman Cuellar helped secure language in the Homeland bill directing DHS to provide accurate reporting on the number of separations as a result of:
- The prosecution of a parent or legal guardian;
- A medical necessity;
- The interest of the immediate safety of the child; or
- A fraudulent family relationship or guardianship claims.
Congressman Cuellar has also required reporting by DHS that:
- Provides a description of how the validity of family relationship or guardianship claims are determined;
- Describes any guidance to field personnel regarding the implementation of new child separation policies;
- Describes the process for reuniting families that are separated as a result of the prosecution of an adult family member;
- Gives an assessment of how that process can be improved; and
- Assesses the feasibility of using rapid-DNA testing.
In-kind Donations Amendment
Congressman Cuellar additionally secured a provision enabling ICE to accept in-kind donations from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and other groups independent from the Federal government. This amendment will ensure that DHS has access to ample supplies in the form of in-kind donations, including medical goods and services, school supplies, toys, clothing, and any other items that will help provide for the care of unaccompanied immigrant children in custody.
Developing Expedited Reunification Procedures
Congressman Cuellar’s top priority regarding immigrant detention is to ensure all families that are separated are reunited and done so as quickly as possible. In the Homeland bill, he secured language that:
- Ensures separated family units are reunited, transferred and processed together prior to removal from DHS facilities;
- Creates an opportunity for immigrants being transferred from DHS custody to report a separation and verify the status, location, and disposition of their family members;
- Allows communication between separated family members being held in different facilities via phone or video conference, and
- Requires a briefing on the cost a feasibility if an innovative fingerprinting system to be integrated as part of DHS exit tracking of immigrants.
Increasing Transparency at Detention Centers
Congressman Cuellar has made it a top priority for years to improve the conditions of and increase oversight at detention facilities along the southwest border. In 2014, the Congressman was one of the first members of Congress to reveal the need for improvement at border detention facilities. Since then, he has worked to ensure the humane and dignified treatment of those who come to America’s borders. In previous appropriations bills, Congressman Cuellar secured language directing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make available food, water, and medical care to families in custody at the border. His language also increased unannounced inspections of ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities, ensuring that these centers are in compliance with regulations and treat the immigrants in their custody humanely.
Enhancing Oversight and Increasing Accountability
For years, Congressman Cuellar has brought the need to improve detention center conditions to the attention of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. The Congressman helped secure this language to address the conditions that detained immigrants become subject to after apprehension by border agents.
ICE now must publicly report these additional details:
- Semi-annual updates on unaccompanied children who age out while in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody;
- The status of secure communities;
- Oversight access to facilities;
- Deaths in custody;
- Detainee locator information;
- Compliance with Performance Based National Detention Standards;
- Compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act;
- Changes to facility and inspection framework categories;
- The results of unannounced inspections of all family residential centers at least two times a year.
Directing Unannounced Detention Facility Inspections and Publishing Online
Congressman Cuellar secured an amendment directing ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight to conduct unannounced inspections of all ICE family residential centers at least twice a year, and to be promptly published on ICE’s website.
Alternatives to Detention Amendment
He also included $28 million for 19,000 more daily Alternatives to Detention (ATD) participants. ATD programs, which include regular check-ins and ankle monitors, provide an alternative route for certain undocumented immigrants in ICE custody. Specifically, they place low-risk undocumented immigrants under various forms of intensive supervision or electronic monitoring, in lieu of detention, to ensure their appearance for immigration hearings and, in some cases, for their removal.
“While I believe in upholding our immigration laws, I also believe in the humane and dignified treatment of every person that comes to America’s borders. Although we have taken proper steps to address the issue of family separation, more needs to be done. That is why I supported and included language in this bill that will increase accountability and oversight when it comes to treating immigrant families fairly and with dignity at detention centers. It is also takes critical measures in addressing the issue of immigrant family separation at our border.”
Congressman Cuellar added, “I want to thank my fellow Appropriators, DHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Yoder and Ranking Member Lucille Roybal-Allard for helping include this language and funding that will help address the issue of immigrant family separation at our southern border. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on finding practical, long-term solutions to fix our broken immigration system.”
Additional Provisions Supported by Congressman Cuellar:
- Child Separation Criteria Amendment - Ensures that a child is only separated from a parent if the parent has a criminal history, a communicable disease, or is determined to be unfit or a danger to the child.
- Detainment with Siblings Amendment - Ensures that separated immigrant children who are detained at the border are held with their siblings whenever possible.
- Mental Health Care for Unaccompanied Children and Families – Provides an additional $3.7 million for medical and mental health screening, triage, and referral services by specialized personnel to unaccompanied children in high volume southwest border CBP locations. An additional $3 million for trauma treatment for children and their families at CBP and ICE locations.
- Assurance of Congressional Oversight Amendment - Guarantees that no funding will be used to prevent a Member of the U.S. Congress from entering, for the purposes of conducting oversight, any facility in the United States, used for the purposes of detaining or housing immigrant children.
Read Congressman Cuellar’s DHS Appropriations Language here.
Read Congressman Cuellar’s Appropriation Langue on Detention Centers from FY15-FY19 here.
Watch Congressman Cuellar speak during full committee markup here and here.
Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) speaks at the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee Markup for fiscal year 2019 in Washington on Wednesday.