Caged Children & Terrified Infants: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Describes “Acts of Indecency” at Border

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President Trump is continuing to blame Democrats for his administration’s practice of separating at least 2,000 children from their parents in recent weeks. He also doubled down on the practice in an address Monday, ahead of his meetings today with Republicans to discuss compromise legislation on a hardline immigration bill. We speak with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas. She has represented the 18th Congressional District since 1995, which includes most of central Houston. She is just back from the Texas border with Mexico, where she joined a delegation of lawmakers who visited a processing center in McAllen, Texas, and the Southwest Key Programs’ Casa Padre, which houses 1,500 children in Brownsville, Texas.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are just joined by Congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas. She has represented the 18th Congressional District since 1995, which includes most of central Houston, just back from the Texas border with Mexico, where she joined a delegation of lawmakers visiting a processing center in McAllen and the Southwest Key Programs’ Casa Padre, as it’s called, which houses 1,500 children, separated—most of them separated from their parents. They are in Brownsville. What did you see, Congressmember Sheila Jackson Lee? What are you demanding now that you’re in Congress right now, where you’re standing?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, good morning to you.

And it’s clear that there are acts of indecency. This is an indecent policy, promulgated by a single person, and that is the president of the United States. So I saw people huddled in groups in cages. I saw children who certainly needed to be with their parents. Little baby Roger, that I held in my hands, was 9 months old. A little Leah, who was 1 years old—both taken from a grandmother and a sister, those who love them and brought them and would have protected them.

Clearly, these persons who are working at the border are working at the behest of the president of the United States. And I think it is very important—this is a nonpartisan issue. I don’t even want to call it bipartisan. But it is clear that if we go back as far as 2010, when the Gang of Eight, Democrats and Republicans, proposed a comprehensive immigration reform, it was the Republicans who stopped it. It is a Republican president today that refuses to understand that he is violating all acts of decency. And as Bishop Curry has said, it is not biblical. As Laura Bush has said, it breaks our heart.

So what I saw was a crisis continuing—not in the making, a crisis continuing, because 2,000 children have now been scattered across America, and the president alone has had a zero tolerance, criminalizing any form of entry and not allowing access to asylum, which, by the way, for those of us who are advocating for decency, we are not reckless as it relates to immigration policy. We believe that this nation is a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. What we’re saying is that these individuals who present themselves, who openly present themselves to a representative of the United States of America, be allowed to pursue a legal option, which is asylum. And that means, before the president, before Attorney General Sessions, it could be domestic violence, which I heard a lot of, and it could be gang violence. And it would break your heart, as Laura Bush said, to hear the stories of these persons who flee into the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congresswoman, your response to not only President Trump but his aides raising the issues that some of these people coming across the border are actually involved in smuggling, that they’re not actually the parents of these children or relatives, and of the opening to the United States of greater crime as a result of folks coming across the border? Your response?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Complete folly. And the reason is that I have been on the Homeland Security Committee since the heinous and terrorist act of 9/11. It preceded the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, because my committee created it. I went to ground zero during the recovery period. And I always make that very clear: not rescue, but recovery period. I was there at the beginning. We have professionals.

I have interacted with Border Patrol agents for now more than two decades. They understand the concept and the actuality of smugglers and coyotes. They come with ones and twos and threes and fours and fives and six. They come with a bunch. They do not come with a 9-month-old and one 19-year-old sister. They do not come with a 1-year-old and one grandmother. That is not a smuggler. And to make folly of the work of cartels and smuggling large groups of people is absolutely ludicrous, and our Border Patrol agents would tell you they are well informed to know the difference. Maybe they should call the president at (202) 456-1111 to let him know that.

The other thing is, that I think is important to take note of, is the fact that the facts of why these people are fleeing are things that many of us could never imagine. You are a pregnant young woman. You borrowed money. Your family borrowed money from a private bank, but it was supported, funded, owned by the cartel. When you did not pay, the cartel says to you, “Soon as you have your baby, I am going to kill you.” You flee, eight-and-a-half months pregnant. You did not want to flee eight-and-a-half months pregnant, but your baby would be left without a mother. And you gave birth on your way, and you’re sitting in a station, where you have had no medical care. The baby is 45 days old and seen no medical professional. Let me just say—and I want to take note of this—I asked one of the Border Patrol persons to have this person provided with medical care. I want to say publicly that that person indicated they would, that they would take them to a hospital for both the baby and the mother. But that was one incident where one member of Congress was there along with others. So there are constant indecent acts.

Babies and children are not able to be hugged. In the centers that they go to, I asked the question: What do you do with traumatized children? Why one 6-year-old? What do you do with bedwetters? Mothers ask these questions, because we know when children are traumatized, they begin to have these circumstances. And the answer was attempting to be responsive, but it was: “We will give them what they need, the clothing that they need.” That’s not what they need. If you’re a bedwetter, you are traumatized, and you need the love of that parent, or you need medical care.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jackson Lee, you’re back from the border. You’re in Washington, D.C., now. Trump is going there today, to the Capitol. What are you demanding? Trump is saying it’s your fault. He’s saying it’s Pramila Jayapal’s fault, right here. It’s the Democrats’ fault that this is happening. What are you going to do?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, unfortunately, the president had no experience with government and no involvement with government prior to a shocking election in 2016, and no interest in government per se, except throwing various comments to undermine President Barack Obama. But what I would say is he was not here in 2010 when the Gang of Eight presented their bipartisan, at that time, immigration reform bill, and it was imploded here by the House, by the Republican-controlled House.

In addition, I will be looking to Republicans of good will. I’d like to call this nonpartisan, not even bipartisan, to push back on the president when he comes to speak and cajole, and to say clearly to him that you’re holding 9-month-old Roger, that is now separated from his family, as a hostage.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you support a bill that also includes $25 billion for the wall?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Well, let me just say this. I’ve always been against the wall. What I do believe we should do is a straight-up bill by Congressman Nadler, that we hope to have introduced, that I am co-sponsoring, that deals with not separating children from parents. By the way, we don’t need a law. The president could do it right now.

I would prefer a bill that had been worked on by Democrats and Republicans, as had been worked on by fellow Texans, of which I was a co-sponsor, that dealt with the DACA, or a comprehensive immigration bill, again, that had been worked on by Democrats and Republicans. The bill that had the DACA language in it, protections, that was bipartisan, had in fact resources for security at the border. That was supported in the past by Republicans and Democrats by a homeland security bill.

So, there are many options. What this discussion will be will be singularly what the president wants: the ending of legal immigration, the ending of diversity visas. And people want to see that as the kind of horror that the president is represented to be. It is not.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Ten seconds, Congressmember Jayapal?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Amy, I just want to say this. The president needs to stay in the White House, pick up the phone and reverse this policy. He does not need to be on the Hill. It is on him that this is happening to children. He would love nothing more than for the discussion to turn to legislation, and then be able to blame Democrats. He can do this.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you for the abolishing of ICE?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I have been for—as you might know, I did a report back in 2008 on the abuses within the ICE detention system. I have a bill to reform the detention facility overall. And, yes, I would love to see ICE go.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for this segment. Of course, we cover this every day. Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, speaking to us here in New York from Washington state, and Sheila Jackson Lee, congressmember from Houston, speaking to us from Statuary Hall in Congress. This is Democracy Now!

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Thank you. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, we go to Nicaragua. Stay with us.

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