Illegal immigrant children caught at the border are now, and always have been, getting soap, toothpaste and other basic hygiene necessities — at taxpayers’ expense — a top Border Patrol official told Congress on Wednesday.
Brian S. Hastings, chief of the Border Patrol’s law enforcement operations, said shocking claims by lawyers who visited facilities and said children were going without necessities are distorted.
In fact, he said, the storeroom at border facilities “frankly looks like Costco,” with shelves of what the agency calls “consumables” — blankets, soap, and other basic necessities.
“We are providing those things now. We have been and we will continue to,” Chief Hastings told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
“We provide three meals, hot meals a day, and snacks are unlimited,” he added.
The conditions at the border have become a major flare-up in the immigration debate, particularly after a Justice Department lawyer, Sarah B. Fabian, appeared in a federal appeals court this month and suggested the government doesn’t have an obligation to furnish soap or even beds for border detainees, who are supposed be in custody for only short periods of time.
She was debating what the government’s obligation is when it comes to providing a “safe and sanitary” environment for illegal immigrant children. The judges appeared to disagree.
Her argument has been lampooned on national television and become a point of derision on Capitol Hill — though Chief Hastings says it’s not happening.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire Democrat, didn’t believe the Border Patrol official.
“There is a huge disconnect between your testimony and what we’re hearing,” she told him.
She cited lawyers who visited facilities in Texas and reported children with colds, who had been denied chances to shower, and lacked soap.
Chief Hastings said the facilities weren’t built to accommodate the numbers and types of migrants.
They were built in the 1980s and 1990s, when the flow was illegal immigrant adults, almost all from Mexico, who were held at most for a few hours while they were processed and returned back to Mexico. The process was so quick that some agents reported catching the same person multiple times in the same night.
Now, the flow is chiefly children and families from Central America who, under U.S. policies, cannot be returned immediately across the border. Unaccompanied children are to be placed with social workers — but the Health and Human Department has run out of bed space, leaving children stacked at the border for days or weeks in those facilities not meant for them.
And the families are coming at rates so high that agents are struggling to process them. Almost all are then released into the local communities as soon as possible.
Chief Hastings said they’ve had to bring in shower facilities, because they are now holding people far longer than anticipated.
He also cast doubt on the lawyers’ claims that children are being denied basic needs, pointing out they pursuing a lawsuit against the government.
Ms. Hassan was shocked he would question the lawyers’ veracity.
“You should understand that I am a member of the bar of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I hold attorneys to very high standards. I doubt very strongly that any attorney would be fabricating this information,” the senator lectured.
“I understand ma’am,” Chief Hastings replied.
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