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Congressional Hispanic Caucus Sends Letter Opposing Cole Amendment to Undermine Flores Settlement

Sep 7, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), and members of CHC leadership sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader; Speaker Paul Ryan; Senator Shelby, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman; and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen demanding that Representative Cole’s family detention amendment be struck from any funding package. This poison pill amendment would strip away vital provisions of the Flores Settlement agreement which protects vulnerable immigrant children and forcing them to remain in jail-like conditions indefinitely. The amendment was included in the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill, which will soon be conferenced as part of a larger minibus funding package.

As the Members stated in the letter, “Inclusion of the Cole amendment, or similar family detention policy riders in any minibus or funding package, will only serve to delay and potentially jeopardize bipartisan efforts to fund the government.”

They reiterated the importance of the Flores Settlement safeguards, which help protect vulnerable children and added “After months of the American public witnessing the cruel images and heartbreaking cries of thousands of children being detained and separated from their parents, the Trump Administration is using every avenue, from proposing federal regulations that undermine the Flores settlement to attaching family detention riders to must-pass legislation, to continue the cruel practice of keeping children in jail-like settings.”

The letter concludes, “We have a moral responsibility to care and protect vulnerable children and their families. Therefore, we urge you to uphold the Flores Settlement, implement compassionate alternatives to detention and support programs that protect the well-being and care of children and families.” 

The letter was also signed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01); First Vice Chair Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20); Second Vice Chair Congressman Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Whip Congressman Pete Aguilar (CA-31); Freshman Representative Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). 

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

 

September 7, 2018

 

Honorable Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
Honorable Paul Ryan
House Majority Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
Honorable Richard Shelby
Chairman
Senate Appropriations Committee
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
 
Honorable Rodney Frelinghuysen
Chairman
House Appropriations Committee
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Majority Leader Ryan, Chairman Shelby, and Chairman Frelinghuysen:

 

We write to you to express our profound concerns on a troubling family detention amendment by Representative Tom Cole that was included in the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. Representative Cole’s amendment would strip away vital protections for vulnerable immigrant children by forcing them to remain in indefinite jail-like conditions with their parents while they seek asylum in the United States. Soon, the House and Senate will begin conference negotiations involving the House and Senate Labor-HHS appropriation bills as part of a larger minibus funding package. As this process proceeds, it is of the utmost importance that this inhumane and cruel amendment be struck from any final minibus package. The inclusion of the Cole amendment, or similar family detention policy riders in any minibus or funding package, will only serve to delay and potentially jeopardize bipartisan efforts to fund the government.

As written, the Cole amendment would entirely remove the application of the Flores consent decree to migrant children arriving with their families seeking asylum; remove existing safeguards on conditions in facilities used to detain families; and allow for the indefinite detention of immigrant families during their immigration proceedings.  The Flores Settlement is a binding decree that holds the Department of Homeland Security to basic child protection standards like ensuring that facilities are safe and appropriate for children, so it is deeply troubling that any changes to this decree would be acceptable, particularly when it comes to the protection and well-being of children. 

Further, after months of the American public witnessing the cruel images and heartbreaking cries of thousands of children being detained and separated from their parents, the Trump Administration is using every avenue, from proposing federal regulations that undermine the Flores settlement to attaching family detention riders to must-pass legislation, to continue the cruel practice of keeping children in jail-like settings.  Numerous physician groups, health care and mental health care experts have expressed grave concern with the practice of detaining children in detention centers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated these facilities “do not meet the basic standards for the care of children in residential settings.” Sadly, the case of an 18-month-old child acquiring a serious pulmonary illness while in ICE custody and, ultimately, passing away from complications from this illness, is the latest example of the concerning settings that we are placing young, vulnerable children in.     

Indefinite detention is not a viable and sound solution for children seeking asylum.  There are a number of alternatives to detention that are safer, healthier and far less costly settings for children and families as they await their court cases.  For example, the Family Case Management Program (FCMP) allowed for families to be released and receive assistance from social and legal services while they abided by immigration requirements. Over 99 percent of the families enrolled in the FCMP appeared at their check-ins with DHS and their immigration court hearings. This was accomplished at a mere cost of $38 per day for a whole family, which is dramatically less than the $320 per day needed to house one family member in detention.  In light of this information, it is critical that you reject the inclusion of any costly and inhumane family detention policy riders like the Cole amendment.

While we demand that Representative Cole’s amendment be struck from any minibus, we would like to express our support for several amendments that were included in the House Labor-HHS appropriations bill.  Many of these amendments, passed by voice vote, will help provide care and services to the thousands of children that were separated during the family separation crisis.  Amendments that fund mental health services, prevent forced medication, improve oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement-funded facilities and permit in-kind donations to facilities are all positive amendments that will improve the available care and setting in these facilities.

The American public witnessed first-hand the forced separation of thousands of families and the long-lasting consequences of these actions are still being felt by hundreds of families as they remain separated.  This will be a long lasting stain in our nation’s history.  As we seek to right this wrong, we cannot allow any family detention riders, like the Cole amendment, to be included in any minibus or funding package. We have a moral responsibility to care and protect vulnerable children and their families. Therefore, we urge you to uphold the Flores settlement, implement compassionate alternatives to detention and support programs that protect the well-being and care of children and families.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.    

Sincerely,

 

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