Saturday’s tour of a Texas tent city for migrant children crystallized how unknowable their future is and the imperative of finding long-term solutions, said two U.S. representatives from Long Island.
Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) spoke to Newsday after visiting a temporary shelter for more than 300 children, mostly boys over 13, run by a nonprofit, BCFS, for the federal government.
“I think back to when I was 15, I had all the protections my parents were able to provide . . . and my God, what is their future going to be? It’s sad, it’s very emotional,” Rice said.
Said Suozzi: “We have a failed policy in this country . . . that for over 30 years has left us with unsecured borders and 11 million-plus people living underground.”
That is how many immigrants are estimated to be living here illegally.
Suozzi did not call for granting them citizenship, instead saying they must be protected so they are not afraid to report crimes or preyed on by gangs demanding protection money.
“I think that we clearly need a comprehensive immigration bipartisan reform that secures our borders and gives a clear path to safety in America for the 11 million-plus people,” he said.
The center they toured with four other bipartisan colleagues sits by the border in Tornillo, about 30 miles south of El Paso.
Unlike the “cages” those arriving illegaly initially are held in, it has air-conditioned tents, a medical office and enough space for soccer. Efforts are made to teach rudimentary English.
In deciding to prosecute everyone illegally crossing the southwest border, the Trump administration set off a scramble to house the 2,300 children taken from parents who were jailed.
Officials now say prosecutions will continue, though they will try to detain families together during immigration proceedings. This outraged advocates who say children don’t belong in jail.
As many as 15,000 beds in family detention facilities might be needed; the Pentagon is drafting plans to house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied children on its bases.
All but 26 of the children held in the Tornillo center came here without their families.
Two of the 26 who were wrested from their parents were reunited. However, the parents of another two, both from Guatemala, have already been deported. And both children told a translator they wanted to join their relatives in the United States.
Suozzi and Rice oppose the compromise House GOP bill that includes $25 billion for a border wall and a path to citizenship for Dreamers — those who came here illegally as children.
It is a piecemeal approach, Suozzi said, and not bipartisan.
“We need to start treating people like human beings,” he said.
Said Rice: “This is one of those issues no one wants to touch in an election year, and I think we need to have more courage than that.”
On Monday, Suozzi and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran plan to visit MercyFirst in Syosset to see how they are caring for the eight children taken from their parents who were sent to Long Island.
Curran said: “Above all, I want to know what the process is to have them reunited with their families and how quickly can that happen.”
She continued: “No child should have to live through a situation like this.”