Crowded Detention Facilities Spur GOP to Question Asylum Laws
Demonstrators hold up placards during a #CloseTheCamps protest outside the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg)

Crowded Detention Facilities Spur GOP to Question Asylum Laws

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday showed that lawmakers remain sharply divided on how to deal with the influx of migrants at the southern border, as President Donald Trump took matters into his own hands with executive action on asylum rules.

Homeland Security Assistant Inspector General Diana Shaw, speaking to the House panel, described “dangerous holding conditions” that her office found during unannounced inspections of Customs and Border Patrol facilities for migrants in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.

The inspections produced two alerts from the Office of Inspector General on overcrowding and prolonged detention within the facilities, as well as unaccompanied children held without access to hot food, showers and a change of clothes. The report found CBP in non-compliance with standards for handling detainees.

The treatment of migrants, many of them Central Americans seeking U.S. asylum, has escalated tensions on an issue central to Trump’s political message since he first entered politics as a candidate.

Republican proposals to overhaul U.S. asylum laws have failed to advance, and the Trump administration on Monday announced new rules to restrict asylum claims by many Central American migrants who cross the U.S. southern border without authorization.

‘Overusing Detention’

Monday’s hearing was one of several Democrats have held in recent weeks to highlight the humanitarian side of the border crisis. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee placed blame on the Trump administration for the treatment of migrants and overcrowding at facilities.

“If ICE beds are filled it could be because we’re overusing detention itself,” said Pramila Jayapal, the Washington State Democrat who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Republicans on the committee continued to defend border officials and point out Congress’ failure to pass legislation to curb the influx of migrants entering the country along the southern border.

“What are they supposed to do if there is not a place to transport them to?” asked Gregory Steube, a Florida Republican.

The administration’s new asylum rule, to be made official on Tuesday, would require migrants to apply for protection from persecution or torture while in a third country before entering the U.S. If they fail to apply before entering the U.S. they would be ineligible for asylum.

The rule has three exceptions. Migrants can still file a claim in the U.S. if their application was denied in another country en route to the U.S., if the migrant is a victim of “a severe form of trafficking in persons,” or if the migrant comes from countries that were not party to certain international agreements regarding human rights and refugees.

“Sorry, can’t let them into our Country,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “If too crowded, tell them not to come to USA, and tell the Dems to fix the Loopholes - Problem Solved!”

Vice President Mike Pence called the overcrowding of CBP facilities the “epicenter” of the border crisis. Late last week, he toured a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, where undocumented adult male migrants were housed in crowded, unsanitary cages and slept on concrete floors. Pence’s office said in a statement that it had instructed border Border Patrol officials “to not clean up or sanitize the facility beyond what is routine so the American people could see how serious the crisis at our border is.“

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