The conditions that many migrant children have been facing in border detention facilities are hard to imagine.
Late yesterday, hundreds of children were moved out of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas.
Congressman Sean Casten of Illinois’s 6th Congressional District in the western suburbs joins the Morning Shift from Washington, D.C., to discuss that and more.
What concerns you most about what we’ve seen at the facility in Clint, Texas?
Rep. Casten: The stories are completely heartbreaking, and it’s hard to say what concerns me most. But I think as a policy matter, these are completely self-inflicted wounds. We have a huge influx of asylum seekers — that’s a result of the war on drugs, that’s a result of curtailing State Department policies.
I’m glad that we’re going to be voting today to provide about $4.5 billion of funding to HHS [the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services] to make sure that they are not financially constrained. But the policy decisions that are being taken by the executive branch are making it more expensive to do the right thing.
What’s included in this plan to alleviate what we’re seeing at the border?
Casten: There’s about $2.8 [billion] to HHS, Health and Human Services, and another $1.3 [billion] to Homeland Security. It is slightly more than what the administration has requested, but basically to make sure that we have significant extra capacity for beds, for blankets, for food, for all the things that we need to have.
And, it’s not enough. It’s not addressing the root causes of the problem, but it at least helps close a gap because, as it is, HHS is running out of money because the policies are starving them for resources.
Now, I should say, that some of the things that we have in this proposal as well have riders in it that say things like, you can’t take the money from this and use it for border walls or other such measures. So I’m hopeful that we get my Republican colleagues and the Senate to sign on.
On why it’s taken time to see movement on the border issue
Casten: Again, the issue we have at the border has not been caused by Congress. The issue we have at the border is because we have people in Central America who are deathly afraid to live in the countries that they live in.
And that is in part because our war on drugs has destabilized that region and in part because, into the Trump administration, we’ve pulled significantly back from the kind of State Department support that used to help provide civil society that the governments down there weren’t able to provide.
Jenn White: As you know, there’s this incredible backlog of cases in the asylum courts. I think it’s a backlog of a million cases at this point. What can be done about that?
Casten: There’s funding in here for the Justice Department as well to help address some of those issues. I think that historically it has proven much easier to process families through the system as a unit than individuals. And so, one of the consequences of the family separation policy is to increase the number of cases that has to be processed.
Backing the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump
Casten: What really drove me to the point is that we know unambiguously that Russia interfered in our 2016 election … we know they tried to do it in 2014. And we’ve seen from what they’ve done in Ukraine and Estonia and Georgia, we know how they do this.
One doesn’t need to have a smoking gun proof of who in the administration may have been involved in that, and whether this passed the test of criminal conspiracy, to be deeply concerned about the fact that rather than dealing with this and protecting our democracy and the institution, this is becoming a partisan issue, which makes it very, very hard for us to get to the bottom of this. And that partisan framing has been unfortunately led by the president.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity by Stephanie Kim. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.
GUEST: Sean Casten, Democratic Congressman in the Illinois 6th Congressional District
LEARN MORE: ‘There Is A Stench’: No Soap And Overcrowding In Detention Centers For Migrant Children (New York Times 6/21/19)