The Department of Homeland Security has blocked individual House Oversight Committee staff
members from visiting detention facilities on the Mexico and United States border. Chairman of the
House Oversight Committee, Representative Elijah Cummings, sent a letter to the acting Secretary of
the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, requesting his decision be overturned and
allow them to visit the facilities once again. “I am writing to express my deep concern that the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to block Committee staff from conducting visits
to 11 detention facilities just days after previous staff inspections revealed potentially serious ongoing
problems with the treatment of children and adults in DHS custody – including blocking visits to
sites where the Inspector General warned about ‘an immediate risk to the health and safety of DHS
agents and officers, and to those detained,’” Cummings wrote in the letter. The letter also stated that
DHS would place new restrictions on committee staffers access to the detention facilities on the
Cummings referenced McAleenan’s congressional testimony where he welcomed visits to all detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security. Last month, the Inspector General of DHS released a report warning of severe overcrowding at some migrant detention centers, citing dangerous and unsanitary conditions, like a lack of shower access and room to lie down. This comes in comparison to Cummings’ letter that contained similar findings and concerns at detention facilities.
The letter referenced migrants account of events where food was not given; age-appropriate food for
young children was also not provided. Some accounts reference border patrol agents telling children to drink spilled soup on the floor. Documents were also forced to be signed by ICE officials without
proper translations and lawyers. The letter also stated that migrants were not provided fresh food and
access to medical care.
“It appears that the Administration expects Congress to be satisfied with receiving agency tours of
facilities – in some cases without the ability to photograph conditions or interview detainees –
and not to question the policies or decisions that agency officials make,” Cummings wrote in his letter. “That is not the way effective oversight work,” he continued. “Congress has an independent
responsibility under the Constitution to determine whether federal programs are operating as they
should be – not merely to accept the Administration’s word for it.”
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