June 21, 2018

Harris on Separating Families at the Border: “We will be judged harshly”

Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, DC – Last night, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris spoke out on the Senate floor against the Trump Administration’s separation of 2,300 immigrant children from their parents. In her remarks, Harris highlighted the trauma children experience from being forcibly separated from their parents, praised the activism across the country condemning the separation of families, and called on the Trump Administration to end its zero-tolerance policy that continues to be in place.    

Key Points from Harris’ Remarks:

  • “Let’s be clear about what that point is and that moment is in the stage of a human’s development. Because age is more than a chronological fact. There are phases of childhood that can never be replaced, phases of childhood that when that child experiences trauma, it will have lifelong impact. Phases of life during which a child is so innocent and needs love and needs nurturing and needs that love and nurturing from their parent. It cannot be replaced by anyone else, and certainly not by the cage in which they are now being housed. So let’s look at where we are. It’s a child’s worst nightmare.”
  • “The American people have been speaking over these last many, many weeks and that’s the only reason the Administration finally had to acknowledge that politically, it could not survive its misdeeds. There has still been no acknowledgement by this Administration that it visited this policy upon itself. And after urging from every type of person from every walk of life, still held steadfast in supporting this policy. But then it started to snowball, and they couldn’t stand by it any longer. But it was only because of the pressure, only because of the relentless coverage by journalists who went to Texas, who went California, the activists who stood outside of those detention centers and demanded that there be justice and humanity in this system.”
  • Let’s look at the effect of this Executive Order. The effect is there is still indefinite detention of families in America because of this Administration’s policies. So now we’re going to go from babies in cages to babies with their mommies in cages. Let’s be clear about the effect of this Executive Order: millions more taxpayer dollars will be used to expand detention camps on top of the billions of taxpayer dollars that have already poured into this detention system. Let’s be clear about the effect of this Executive Order: that the so-called zero tolerance policy that created this problem in the first place is still in effect. Is still in effect.”
  • “And let’s be clear: a society is judged based on how it treats its children. A society is judged based on how it treats the least among us. And we will be judged harshly. History will judge us harshly because of what this Administration has done.”

Full remarks as delivered by Harris:

 

I want to thank Senator Merkley for bringing us all together to address what is – I agree with my colleagues, with Senator Hassan – one of the dark marks in the history of our country.

 

So I rise today to call attention to what has clearly been a human rights abuse committed by the United States government, and that is this outrageous and inhumane separation of children from their parents at the border.

 

This morning, thousands of children woke up without their parents – not knowing where they were, not knowing when they would see them again, not knowing the adults who surround them, having no relationship of trust with these people who have removed their ability to be in the arms and embrace of their parents. This is simply inhumane and it is unacceptable.

 

And even with the Executive Order from the President of the United States, that number will be the same tomorrow. Those 2000+ children will be in the same situation tomorrow that they were in today, and the day before, and the day before that.

 

Over the last few months, the Department of Homeland Security has separated more than 2,000 children from their parents at the border. Many of them younger than 4 years old. And let’s be clear about what that point is and that moment is in the stage of a human’s development. Because age is more than a chronological fact. There are phases of childhood that can never be replaced, phases of childhood that when that child experiences trauma, it will have lifelong impact. Phases of life during which a child is so innocent and needs love and needs nurturing and needs that love and nurturing from their parent. It cannot be replaced by anyone else, and certainly not by the cage in which they are now being housed. So let’s look at where we are. It’s a child’s worst nightmare.

 

A nightmare that has displayed, as my colleagues have discussed, in the stories, the stories of a child that was apparently ripped from her mother’s breast while being breastfed. The stories, the nightmare stories of a 3-year-old that was torn from the arms of his father, the father being so distraught that he took his own life.

 

And we should tell the truth – we’ve got to speak the truth – the American public knows the truth. Let’s speak truth here in the United States Senate, let’s speak truth as leaders and acknowledge the lifelong consequences of the separation that we visited upon these children from their parents. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have weighed in on this topic, and what they have said is that family separation in these cases – not as a general matter, it is generally true, and specifically in these cases – will cause lifelong trauma. They have indicated that there is empirical evidence of the fact that it is likely to cause significant harm to the brain structure of these children, and will affect these children’s’ long and short term health.

 

And let’s be clear: a society is judged based on how it treats its children. A society is judged based on how it treats the least among us. And we will be judged harshly. History will judge us harshly because of what this Administration has done.

 

And as I stand here at this moment hours after the announcement of the Executive Order on this issue, I find it shocking that the Executive Order fails to acknowledge that over 2,000 children are currently – as this very moment - without their parents. I find it shocking that the Executive Order fails to acknowledge, take into account or even concern itself, with the fact that tonight there will be over 2,000 children who will go to bed, who will go to sleep without a kiss goodnight from their mother or their father. There are 2,000 children in our country tonight who will go to bed without a hug from their parent. 2,000 children tonight will go to bed asking, “Where is my mommy, where is my daddy?” This is an outrage. It is an outrage. Not to mention, these children are innocent and have committed no wrong-doing whatsoever.

 

And let’s be clear: thankfully, the American people have been speaking over these last many, many weeks and that’s the only reason the Administration finally had to acknowledge that politically, it could not survive its misdeeds. There has still been no acknowledgement by this Administration that it visited this policy upon itself. And after urging from every type of person from every walk of life, still held steadfast in supporting this policy. But then it started to snowball, and they couldn’t stand by it any longer. But it was only because of the pressure, only because of the relentless coverage by journalists who went to Texas, who went California, the activists who stood outside of those detention centers and demanded that there be justice and humanity in this system. And it was because of that activism, and because of these people speaking out, that finally this Administration did what was necessary to end the thing that it started around the separation of these children.

 

But this is not enough, because the reality is that there is nothing about this Executive Order that addresses those 2,000 children who are currently without their parents. There is nothing about the Administration’s stated policy, as of today, that indicates any plan to reunify those children with their parents.

 

So let’s look at the effect of this Executive Order.

 

The effect is there is still indefinite detention of families in America because of this Administration’s policies. So now we’re going to go from babies in cages to babies with their mommies in cages.

 

Let’s be clear about the effect of this Executive Order: millions more taxpayer dollars will be used to expand detention camps on top of the billions of taxpayer dollars that have already poured into this detention system.

 

Let’s be clear about the effect of this Executive Order: that the so-called zero tolerance policy that created this problem in the first place is still in effect. Is still in effect.

 

Let’s be clear about this Executive Order: the effect is to suggest that a mother fleeing a murder capital of the world, which is what the zero-tolerance policy suggests – that a mother fleeing with her child a murder capital of the world should be treated as being equal in a threat to our safety as a member of a transnational criminal organization. And as a prosecutor for most of my adult life, I find that absolutely disingenuous and just absolutely wrong on a moral level, on an ethical level, and devoid of any reference to real fact.

 

But I am not surprised given the Administration’s track record on this issue. If you look at what has been coming out of this Administration in terms of its policies, it paints a constellation of attacks on immigrant women, on immigrant children and on immigrant families.

 

Let’s look at the constellation before us and what has been going on. Let’s just look at how this Administration has changed the policies about detentions of pregnant women. Before this Administration acted on this subject, it was the policy of the United States government to place pregnant women in a least restrictive place where they could be able to get the kind of prenatal care that they so desperately need and deserve. This Administration rolled back those protections of pregnant women.

 

Let’s look – there used to be a policy that gave a presumption that pregnant women would not even be detained and should be in less restrictive situations. But this Administration changed that policy.

 

Let’s look at how the Office of the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have raised serious concerns about oversight and conditions in the detention facilities. There’s nothing about this Executive Order that addresses those concerns.

 

Let’s look at a complaint filed just last year by numerous organizations such as the Women’s Refugee Commission that documents insufficient medical care and inhumane conditions for pregnant women in ICE custody.

 

All of which is why I’ve been proud to work with Representative Jayapal to introduce the DONE Act, which would slash ICE detention beds by using alternatives to detention, and would increase oversight – badly needed oversight – of these facilities.

 

Let’s look at another policy. There are reports that the Department of Homeland Security is looking at decreasing the standard of care for children in detention facilities. Decreasing standard of care. These standards govern the type of meals that a child must eat in order to be healthy. These standards govern the kind of recreation a child should receive, again, in order to be healthy.

 

And then just this past month the Attorney General of the United States announced a decision which makes it nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence, over 90% of whom are women, to seek asylum in the United States.

 

And let’s look at one final policy that makes this Administration’s priorities around children very clear: the fact that they’ve ended DACA.

 

We’ve talked about this extensively. We have talked about how the American government made a promise to these DREAMers, these young people, and this Administration has failed to keep that promise.

 

So what we see is an Administration that is engaged in an act of complete hypocrisy, pretending to care about families and children, when in fact they have a track record of policies that are specifically damaging to families, women and children.

 

Mr. President, in conclusion, there is no medical or logical reason that dictates or requires this Administration to detain more pregnant women. And it’s got to stop.

 

There is no evidence that says you should reduce care for children in detention facilities. That’s got to stop.

 

There’s no reason not to have a plan to reunify the 2,300 children who go to sleep tonight torn from their parents and alone. There’s no reason, and it’s got to stop.

 

This is not reflective of who we are as a country. We are better than this.

 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

 

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