A bipartisan congressional group is scheduled to visit the Rio Grande Valley on Monday, which will mark the first Republicans aside from the two Texas senators to explore the region since the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy was publicly rolled out this spring.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will lead a bipartisan group of committee members to visit multiple federal facilities on Monday, according to a committee aide.
Specifics for the committee’s trip were unclear, but many recent congressional visits have included stops at the U.S. Border Patrol’s centralized processing center in McAllen and the Southwest Key Programs Casa El Presidente and Casa Padre immigrant children shelters in Brownsville. The shelters are contracted under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Some members of Congress have also visited the McAllen federal courthouse, international bridges or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Port Isabel Detention Center. The day before the Walden-led trip, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, will be in town to tour facilities.
Nearly 10 U.S. senators and more than 40 U.S. House members have visited the Valley over the last six weeks, as more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents in recent months under Trump’s zero tolerance policy that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions implemented.
After weeks of political pressure, Trump signed an executive order in late June to end the practice of separating families. However, many children and parents are still separated, some in shelters or detention centers across the country.
Last week, a federal judge in San Diego issued an injunction against separating families and ordered the administration to reunite immigrant children with their parents by July 26.
The largest migrant youth shelter in the country is the Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, a former Walmart cited 13 times for deficiencies by state regulators since it opened in March 2017.
While the cascade of political visits has drawn attention to the immigration subject, nearly none have been from Republicans, who control both Congress and the White House. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have been the only Republicans to meet with local officials and tour the Southwest Key shelters in Brownsville.
Since 2014, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has tried to provide oversight on the HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for unaccompanied children, including those separated from their parents.
The committee has sent numerous letters to the former HHS secretary since the 2014 immigration influx, and just last week sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar.
“The committee investigated ORR’s management and treatment of (unaccompanied minors) beginning in 2014 after the dramatic surge in border crossings by (unaccompanied minors) from Central America as well as a series of reports and records that were released by the Houston Chronicle regarding allegations of abuse, including sexual abuse, of minors in HHS custody…,” the letter read. “In the course of this investigation, the Committee sent three letters to HHS raising grave concerns about the treatment of children while in the custody of ORR, and the then-lack of follow up to ensure that children were cared for properly after being placed with a sponsor…
“Given HHS’ historical difficulties in properly caring for (unaccompanied children), the Committee believes that additional scrutiny of ORR is warranted at this time.”