PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After visiting migrant detention centers along the Mexico-United States border Friday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said the continued separation of children from families is “not something anyone would want to see.”
Reed, who is the longest-serving member of the Rhode Island congressional delegation, traveled to the border in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of migrants are being held in detention facilities, including one containing only children.
“It’s disheartening to see children separated from their parents and being held – frankly – behind bars,” Reed told WPRI during an interview afterward. “They weren’t the ones that decided they had to go north.”
The U.S. House of Representatives this month released new statistics showing more than 2,600 migrant children have been separated from their parents since the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy went into effect last year.
Reed visited various detention facilities, along with the Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley headed by Sister Norma Pimentel, which he said was the “one bright spot” on his visit.
“They were helping these families that were being released,” he said. “It was the best of America.”
Less encouraging, however, was the large number of people he said were trying to survive behind bars at the McAllen Border Patrol facility, along with overburdened border patrolmen who were charged with providing care for migrants instead of their intended mission of law enforcement.
“They will admit that they have had very difficult circumstances and they need more support,” Reed said.
In the short term, Reed said families should be reunited and people being detained should be given proper health care and other basic necessities.
The country should also use diplomacy with Central American governments to try and improve living conditions abroad, so residents don’t feel the need to flee their homelands, he added.
The highest number of detained immigrants in the United States come from Mexico, followed by El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants.
“When I spoke to the families, they told me they came here to escape violence and to find a better life with their children,” Reed said. “They’re not criminals.”
To reduce the high number of people waiting at the border, he added, the judicial system should try to decide on cases of asylum more quickly.
Reed didn’t go so far as to liken the detention centers to “concentration camps” like some of his Democratic colleagues in Congress. But he also didn’t miss an opportunity to take a shot at Republicans, including President Trump, who he said have stymied good-faith efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the past.
“The president uses this issue to divide the country,” Reed said. “I remember when George W. Bush was president, he actually engaged with us in a serious conversation about immigration reform.”