Commentary: Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to help ensure humane and safe conditions and treatment for people in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. The Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act, S. 2135, would require CBP to meet the basic health and medical needs of people in its care by conducting health screenings and delivering emergency care; providing humane short-term detention conditions; and ensuring access to adequate water, nutrition, and sanitation.
Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and is cosponsored by over 150 members of Congress. Today, the House Judiciary Committee approved the House bill and reported it to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
Recent reports have described cruel treatment and degrading conditions for children, families, and individuals being held in CBP facilities along the border, including overcrowded processing centers, freezing temperatures, insufficient food, and lack of adequate access to basic sanitation. In particular, the reports have raised concerns that unsafe and unsanitary living conditions at these facilities are putting children at risk of serious harm. Since 2018, at least 20 individuals have died in U.S. custody, including at least seven children and two children in New Mexico.
“This is the United States of America. Children, families and individuals fleeing horrific violence in their home countries – who arrive at our borders seeking asylum – deserve to be treated with humanity, with dignity, and with care for their health and safety. But instead, the Trump administration’s failed immigration policy has inflicted unspeakable cruelty and trauma and badly strained our system – all while doing nothing to make our communities in New Mexico safer or stronger,” said Udall. “Recent reports have painted a horrifying picture of the mistreatment that children and families are facing at some border patrol facilities. Let’s be clear: these inhumane conditions are legally indefensible and morally unconscionable. Our legislation establishes critical humanitarian standards, treating all human beings with the dignity, compassion, and respect they deserve. As a proud border state senator, I’ll continue to conduct rigorous oversight of this administration’s immigration agenda, and fight for humane immigration policies that reflect our values as a nation.”
“We cannot accept children being deprived of basic necessities and living in squalor. We need real, enforceable standards for these centers – on nutrition, water, sanitation, shelter, emergency care and creating humane conditions for people to live,” said Brown. “During my visit to the border I saw the inhumanity and coldness of President Trump’s family separation policy. We need a bipartisan effort to fix our broken immigration system – one that recognizes that we can secure our border and create a pathway to citizenship for people fleeing violence and persecution and seeking a better life for their families. Tearing children from their parents and locking them in cages goes against this country’s values.”
“Overcrowded, prison-like conditions for detained migrant children are appalling," said Heinrich. "The permanent trauma President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies are inflicting on these young, innocent refugees fleeing violence and seeking asylum, is inhumane and does not represent who we are as a nation. This Administration has lost all credibility for ensuring the health and safety of children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That is why this legislation is critical – we need to establish basic humanitarian standards that treat all migrant children with dignity and respect. I will do everything in my power to hold the White House accountable for adhering to our laws, to American values, and for executing a clear plan to right this horrific wrong.”
“We must take action to end the inhumane treatment of families, prevent more children from dying at the border, and meet the basic humanitarian needs of the families under CBP’s custody and responsibility,” said Congressman Raul Ruiz, M.D. “I’d like to thank Senator Udall for introducing a Senate companion to the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in CBP Custody Act, a critical step that brings us closer than ever to ensuring our treatment of children, women, and families is consistent with our American values and the principles of basic human dignity. I look forward to continuing our work together to send this bill to the President’s desk and develop a professional, humane response to the humanitarian challenges at the border.”
The bill establishes the following humanitarian standards of care for those in CBP custody:
- Health Screening and Emergency Care Standards – Requires CBP to conduct a health screening by a medical professional for each person in its care. Additionally, each facility must maintain personnel and equipment necessary to conduct health screenings and provide emergency care, including access to basic medication, emergency transportation, and interpreters.
- Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Standards – Ensures undeterred access to drinking water; private, safe, clean, and reliable toilets with proper waste disposal; a handwashing station; and basic personal hygiene products.
- Nutrition Standards – Directs CBP to provide individuals in its care with the medically appropriate number of calories for age and weight to height ratio, including accommodations for any dietary needs or restrictions.
- Shelter Standards – Ensures that facilities maintain specific shelter and environmental standards, such as compliance with maximum occupancy levels, specified temperature ranges, and appropriate bedding.
- Access to Facilities – Prevents CBP from denying members of Congress access to CBP facilities
- Coordination and Surge Capacity – Directs CBP to enter into Memoranda of Understanding with appropriate federal agencies to address these needs by using a coordinated approach.
- Training – Directs CBP to provide appropriate training for officers to implement the requirements set forth in this legislation.
The legislation has earned support from a wide range of organizations, including American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for American Progress, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), Physicians for Human Rights, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Public Health Institute, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Hispanic Nurses Association, UnidosUS, Human Rights First, Families Belong Together, Doctors For America, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Immigration Hub, Church World Service, First Focus, Bipartisan Policy Center, Director of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Southern California Providers for Health Equality, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Catholic Charities of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Catholic Charities California, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, United Church of Christ: Justice and Local Church Ministries.
The full text of the legislation is available HERE.