July 31, 2018

At Hearing on Family Separations, Harris Blasts Immoral Separations and Inhumane Detention of Pregnant Women

Video of Harris’ Questioning

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris questioned federal immigration officials on the Trump Administration’s policies surrounding pregnant migrant women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and again voiced her strong concern for families who have been separated. In her questioning, Harris pressed officials on whether current policies allow for pregnant women to be shackled.  

 

“What protocol is being followed or is been promulgated for women who are going into labor while at your detention facilities?,” Harris asked. “I’m also concerned, are they being accompanied by ICE officers to a hospital or are they - is the anticipation that they will give birth in a detention facility? And do you have any policies in place regarding them being shackled? Do you know of any of that?”

 

“I’d have to look exactly to see what it specifically says,” responded Matthew Albence, Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at ICE. “There are times when an individual is being transported, where they would need to be handcuffed for their own safety as well as the safety of the officers and the other inmates - detainees - that are being transferred, absolutely.”

 

At the hearing, Harris also questioned officials on whether efforts are in place to maintain contact between separated families, as well as reports that detainees are being paid $1 a day for labor. Harris recently visited the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in California, where she met with mothers who have been separated from their children and allege that they are charged for phone calls made to their families and forced to work for only a $1 a day.

 

“I’ve been [to Otay Mesa], and I’ve met with the parents there,” said Harris. “And I was told by the people who are running that facility, who most are contract workers, that the calls that those parents would make to their children are free. However, when I sat with the mothers who are at that detention facility and asked them, I found out that they’re being charged 85 cents a minute for those phone calls. I further found out, when visiting that detention facility, that when those parents are there and perform labor, such as cleaning toilets or doing laundry, they are paid one dollar a day. Are you familiar with that policy? Or practice?”

 

“Many of the individuals that are in ICE custody are eligible to apply and work in a voluntary work program. It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary if they choose to do so. Many do choose to do so, just to pass the time, while they’re awaiting their hearing or their removal-,” responded Albence.

 

Harris also noted in her opening statement that the officials testifying at the hearing today are not the “shot callers” of the Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, and reiterated her call for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign.

 

“It is clear that the folks that are before us now are not the shot-callers. They are following orders, they are carrying out a policy that clearly was not of their own making.” said Harris. “I was heartened that when Senator Blumenthal asked the question eliciting anyone to raise their hands in defense of this policy that was about separating children from their families, none raised their hands. And that being said, I believe that we need to call this policy what it is. It is a policy that is about the United States government committing a human rights violation. And I will repeat what I have said weeks ago. I believe that those who called and created this policy and implemented it, including Secretary Nielsen, should step down because this has been a policy that has not only wreaked havoc, it has for probably the entire rest of the lives of the children who have been effected, will cause them harm and damage.”

 

Full transcript of Harris’ questioning below:

 

Harris: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, you know, it is clear that the folks that are before us now are not the shot-callers. They are following orders, they are carrying out a policy that clearly was not of their own making. I was heartened that when Senator Blumenthal asked the question eliciting anyone to raise their hands in defense of this policy that was about separating children from their families, none raised their hands. And that being said, I believe that we need to call this policy what it is. It is a policy that is about the United States government committing a human rights violation. And I will repeat what I have said weeks ago. I believe that those who called and created this policy and implemented it, including Secretary Nielsen, should step down because this has been a policy that has not only wreaked havoc, it has for probably the entire rest of the lives of the children who have been effected, will cause them harm and damage. That being said, Commander White, as of today, what is the current number of parents outside of the country who were separated from their children and have yet to be reunified, and please don't give me the number 431 because that was the number from last Thursday.

 

White: So ma'am, we don't have the parents, we have the children, but I'll talk to you about the number of children who have parents departed. 81 of those children have been discharged, 429 children remain in care whose parents have been - have departed the United States.

 

Harris: And what is the deadline by which we are, and that you are, going to reunify those children with their parents? Is there a deadline in place?

 

White: My team is working to effect those reunifications, my-

 

Harris: Is there a deadline in place?

 

White: We do not presently have, to my knowledge, a deadline in place. Three different federal district courts are now involved in what we can do and what we must do.

 

Harris: Don't you believe that we should be held accountable to ensuring that all means necessary are put in place to ensure that these children are reunified with their parents and there should be a deadline set to make the urgency of the matter clear to all involved?

 

White: Ma'am, it is absolutely my heartfelt conviction that we must reunify those children with their parents, yes.

 

Harris: Will you commit to creating a deadline by which that should happen?

 

White: The deadlines will be imposed by courts and we will execute them. My preferred deadline for my team is absolutely as quickly as humanly possible.

 

Harris: Are you saying that you don't have the authority to create a deadline?

 

White: I'm saying that if I could have reunified all those children with their parents by yesterday, it would be done. We are operating under - we are operators and work within the world of what is actually operationally achievable.

 

Harris: Are you under a consent decree?

 

White: I'm sorry?

 

Harris: Are you under a consent decree? By the court?

 

White: I'm going to have to defer to DOJ to characterize our current legal situation.

 

Harris: And what efforts, if any, is the government making to provide phone and video contact between these families while they are in detention facilities?

 

White: So as we indicated for the children in our care, we work to provide them with unimpeded access with phones to contact their parents.

 

Harris: Is it a policy that they are not to be charged to make these phone calls? You're aware that there's an expense associated with making those calls? Who pays that expense?

 

White: Minors who are in ORR care when they call family members, whether those minors have been separated or otherwise, those calls are paid for under the appropriation that Congress provides for the UAC program that is part of the care of the child.

 

Harris: What about the calls that the parents make to their children? Who pays for those calls?

 

Albence: If they are in one of the facilities that has access to our free platform, then those calls are at no cost to the individuals. If not, the individual will have a minor cost associated with that call depending who that individual is calling. Calls to family members or emergency situations are not charged. Calls upon booking into a facility, transferring facilities are not charged.

 

Harris: Have you visited the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in California?

 

Albence: I may have been to Otay once, I’m not positive.

 

Harris: I’ve been there, and I’ve met with the parents there. And I was told by the people who are running that facility, who most are contract workers, that the calls that those parents would make to their children are free. However, when I sat with the mothers who are at that detention facility and asked them, I found out that they’re being charged 85 cents a minute for those phone calls. I further found out, when visiting that detention facility, that when those parents are there and perform labor, such as cleaning toilets or doing laundry, they are paid one dollar a day. Are you familiar with that policy? Or practice?

 

Albence: Many of the individuals that are in ICE custody are eligible to apply and work in a voluntary work program. It’s not mandatory, it’s voluntary if they choose to do so. Many do choose to do so, just to pass the time, while they’re awaiting their hearing or their removal --

 

Harris: Do you think that people voluntarily choose to clean toilets to pass their time? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Albence: I can say that we have a large number of individuals within our custody that volunteer to work in the work program [inaudible].

 

Harris: To clean toilets? Sir, is that what you’re saying?

 

Albence: I don’t know every task that these individuals are assigned, but again, it’s voluntary.

 

Harris: So are you familiar with a practice at least at that detention facility that is to pay the detention -- the detainees -- a dollar a day for labor performed in that facility?

 

Albence: I’m not particularly familiar with that facility. I can certainly find out when I get back.

 

Harris: Please do, and if you could report back to this committee. How many pregnant women have been detained since January in any facility being run by your agency?

 

Albence: I don’t have since January. I can give you the fiscal year number to date which would be as of July 21st. And that’s 1,395.

 

Harris: And what is the policy in terms of transferring them to a less restrictive facility? If there is such a policy based on the term that they are in their pregnancy, and in particular around the third trimester. Is there a policy?

 

Albence: Yes, ma’am, we do have a policy regarding pregnant detainees and their care. The policy was changed last year to comply with the President’s executive orders. In practice, the only effective change is that no longer are parent - excuse me, are pregnant women given the presumption of release. We’ll look at every case on a case by case basis --

 

Harris: -- which was the previous Administration’s policy, to allow pregnant women to be in a less restrictive detention facility?

 

Albence: They’d be in a less restrictive or, which we still utilize, or some were released. So the number of pregnant detainees that we have right now is not vastly larger than it was in the past two years.

 

Harris: But the conditions and terms by which they are detained is vastly different, as you said, in terms of the policy change.

 

Albence: No, we’re – no, we’re using the same detention facilities now that we were using in 2015, ‘16, ‘17. We utilize the detention facility --

  

Harris: But no longer with the presumption, as you’ve said --

 

Albence: No longer, no longer with the presumption of release, correct ma’am.

 

Harris: Right. And I’ve heard of at least two cases recently where women were going into labor while they were in detention. Are you familiar with those cases?

 

Albence: I’m not.

 

Harris: And what protocol is being followed or is been promulgated for women who are going into labor while at your detention facilities? I’m also concerned, are they being accompanied by ICE officers to a hospital or are they - is the anticipation that they will give birth in a detention facility? And do you have any policies in place regarding them being shackled? Do you know of any of that?

 

Albence: Yeah, so our policy with regard to shackling, it’s in our PBNDS 2011 that we do not shackle women that are in active labor.

 

Harris: What does active labor mean?

 

Albence: The pol -- they’re in labor, ma’am. If they’re six months pregnant and not in labor, then that would not be active labor.

 

Harris: So is there a policy regarding pregnant women being shackled if they’re not in active labor?

 

Albence: I’d have to look exactly to see what it specifically says. There are times when an individual is being transported, where they would need to be handcuffed for their own safety as well as the safety of the officers and the other inmates - detainees - that are being transferred, absolutely.

 

Harris: Okay. If you can follow up on the number of women that are in their third trimester who are currently housed in your detention facilities, I would appreciate that. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

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