Menendez Refutes Trump Admin’s Lies on Humanitarian Crisis at the Southern Border

Menendez Refutes Trump Admin’s Lies on Humanitarian Crisis at the Southern Border

‘This Administration wants us to believe that if the government of the United States is cruel enough (…) desperate families fleeing Central America will stop coming here’

 
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today spoke on the Senate floor on the humanitarian crisis at the southern border of the United States. The Senator showed the picture of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria, who were found dead on the bank of the Rio Grande earlier this week, and shared recently released testimonials from children in DHS detention.  

Key excerpts:

 “Photographs have the power to cut through noise, speak the truth, and invoke action (…) but the photo I’ve brought to the floor today has shaken me to the core. As a father, as a grandfather, as a son of immigrants and above all else as an American. Like the other photographs I mentioned, this one too tells a story.  This one too speaks an ugly truth.”

“In the name of deterrence, they are tearing children and babies away from their mothers and fathers. In the name of deterrence, they are shutting down legitimate ports of entry, effectively encouraging migrant families to seek more dangerous methods of getting in the United States, like crossing the Rio Grande. In the name of deterrence, they are housing children in unsanitary conditions, leaving infants in dirty diapers and children without soap or toothpaste.”

“This Administration wants us to believe that if the government of the United States is cruel enough, that if we deny those seeking asylum all semblances of humanity, that if we ignore basic standards of child welfare, and that if we abandon fundamental American values like respect for human rights, then desperate families fleeing Central America will stop coming here.”

“We must lead our way out of this problem, with real solutions and strategies that bring sanity, dignity, and order back to our border, and prevent the kind of tragic loss of human life we saw earlier this week on the banks of the Rio Grande.”

Yesterday, Sen. Menendez voted against the Senate version of the emergency supplemental spending bill in an effort to prevent the Trump Administration from perpetuating its shameful practices at the border.

The full text of delivered remarks can be found below.

Today I come to the floor once again to speak about a humanitarian crisis, not taking place in Yemen or Syria or any foreign country, but rather right here at the southern border of the United States.

 

Mr. President, they say a picture speaks a thousand words, but I think it’s even more than that.

 

Photographs have the power to cut through noise, to speak the truth, and invoke action. 

 

We all remember the heartbreaking image of a little boy covered in ash, sitting in an ambulance in Syria. It told us all we needed to know about acts of mass murder committed by Bashar al Assad.

 

Likewise we remember the look in the eyes of the malnourished girl on the brink of death in Yemen, one of more than 85,000 children to have succumbed to hunger during Saudi Arabia’s disastrous bombing campaign.

 

But the photo I’ve brought to the floor today has shaken me to the core, as a father, as a grandfather, as a son of immigrants and above all else as an American.

Like the other photographs I mentioned, this one tells a story too.  This one speaks an ugly truth.

 

And that truth is that President Trump’s cruel, inhumane, and un-American border policies have failed.

 

They failed to make us safer. They failed to reduce migration to our border. And they have failed to live up to the American values that define our leadership around the world. 

 

We can never forget this heartbreaking photograph.

 

But more importantly we will not forget the names of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his 23-month old daughter, Valeria, who drowned in a desperate effort to claim asylum in the United States.

 

Oscar, Valeria, and her mother Tania fled El Salvador in the hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. As the Washington Post reported:

“They traveled more than 1,000 miles seeking it…. But the farthest the family got was an international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. On Sunday, they were told the bridge was closed and that they should return Monday. Aid workers told The Post the line to get across the bridge was hundreds long.”

“The young family was desperate. Standing on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, America looked within reach. Martínez and Valeria waded in. But before they all made it to the other side, the river waters pulled the 25-year-old and his daughter under and swept them away.”

 

Later, when Mexican authorities recovered their bodies, Oscar and Valeria were still clinging to each other.

 

Here in the United States, it’s hard to imagine what kind of desperate conditions would propel you to flee your home and embark on a perilous journey in search of protection from a foreign nation. 

 

Most of these families arriving at our border come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras – three countries collectively known as the “Northern Triangle.”

 

It’s a region plagued by transnational gang violence, weak institutions, and poverty.

 

Young boys are forced into servitude by gangs. Young girls are beaten and raped if they refuse to become their “girlfriends.” Parents who try to protect their children end up killed.

 

These countries are among the most dangerous in the world. In El Salvador, a woman is murdered every 19 hours, and in Honduras – the country with the highest homicide rate for women in the world – a woman is killed every 16 hours.

 

To be blunt, these families face an impossible choice.

 

It’s either: stay and die, or flee for a chance to live.

Well, if this horrific and tragic photograph does anything, I hope it dispels us of the ludicrous notion that you can deter desperate families from fleeing their homes in search of safety.

 

That’s how the Trump Administration describes their cruel policies at the border: deterrence.

 

In the name of deterrence, they are tearing children and babies away from their mothers and fathers.

 

In the name of deterrence, they are shutting down legitimate ports of entry, effectively encouraging migrant families to seek more dangerous methods of getting in the United States, like crossing the Rio Grande.

 

In the name of deterrence, they are housing children in unsanitary conditions, leaving infants in dirty diapers and children without soap or toothpaste. 

 

Let me share with you just a few of the statements from children kept in these abhorrent conditions.

 

Said one eight year old boy:

“They took us away from our grandmother and now we are all alone. They have not given us to our mother. We have been here for a long time. I have to take care of my little sister. She is very sad because she misses our mother and grandmother very much… We sleep on a cement bench. There are two mats in the room, but the big kids sleep on the mats so we have to sleep on the cement bench.”

Or consider the words of a sixteen year old girl. 

“We slept on mats on the floor and gave us aluminum blankets. They took our baby’s diapers, baby formula, and all of our belongings. Our clothes were still wet and we were very cold, so we got sick… I’ve been in the US for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap and our clothes are dirty. They have never been washed.”

And finally here are the words of a seventeen year old mother.

“I was given a blanket and a mattress, but then, at 3:00 a.m., the guards took the blanket and mattress. My baby was left sleeping on the floor. In fact, almost every night, the guards wake us at 3:00 a.m. and take away our sleeping mattresses and blankets… They leave babies, even little babies of two or three months, sleeping on the cold floor. For me, because I am so pregnant, sleeping on the floor is very painful for my back and hips. I think the guards act this way to punish us.”

 

This is not the America I know. And yet this Administration wants us to forget who we are.

 

This Administration wants us to believe that if the government of the United States is cruel enough, that if we deny those seeking asylum all semblances of humanity, that if we ignore basic standards of child welfare, and that if we abandon fundamental American values like respect for human rights, then desperate families fleeing Central America will stop coming here.

It’s not true. This entire doctrine of deterrence is grounded in hideous lies, beginning with the lie the President has fed the people from the moment he launched his campaign in 2015 -- the lie that immigrants are a threat to our security.

President Trump has cast immigrants as criminals, rapists, and drug dealers, when the truth is that these migrants are the ones fleeing the criminals, rapists, and drug dealers.

I am sick and tired of these lies. Like when the President repeatedly says he inherited the policy of family separation from the Obama Administration.

 

That’s a lie. The Trump Administration masterminded this despicable policy – pure and simple.

 

These cruel policies are not working. They have done nothing to stem the tide of families seeking asylum in the United States.

 

They have done nothing to stabilize Central America and alleviate the conditions forcing families to come here. 

 

It is time to turn the page. There are so many alternatives to detention available to DHS that are far more humane and far less costly to taxpayers.

 

Consider the Obama Administration’s pilot program known as the Family Case Management System.

 

It established procedures to treat migrant families humanely as their cases moved forward. Pregnant women, nursing mothers or mothers with young children — were given a caseworker who helped educate them on their rights and their responsibilities. They were connected to community resources or family in the country to help them.

 

And according to an Inspector General report, the program was an enormous success, with a compliance rate of 99 percent.

 

That means that 99 percent of the time, families in the program showed up for their ICE check-ins and appointments. And likewise, they showed up 100 percent of the time for their immigration court hearings.

 

Tell me, how many government programs work 100 percent of the time? Very rarely. This one did.

 

But that didn’t stop President Trump from terminating it. Even though it had 99 percent compliance with check-ins, 100 percent for hearings.  That’s not good enough for the Trump Administration.

 

Beyond embracing alternatives to mass detention, we must ramp up humanitarian assistance at the border.

 

That’s why I voted yesterday for the House’s emergency supplemental bill, which will provide desperately-needed support to on-the-ground organizations and better ensure the humane treatment of children in CBP custody.

 

The House bill included strong guardrails to prevent this White House from using these funds to pursue its draconian detention practices and mass deportation agenda.

While the Senate bill fell short in these areas, I hope the Administration uses whatever money it receives to ensure children are properly cared for in a way that respects basic human rights.

 

But solving this crisis will take more than humanitarian funding.

 

If President Trump were serious about reducing migration, he would be working day and night to improve the conditions driving families to flee Central America in the first place.

Instead, he has cut off aid to the Northern Triangle and undermined critical U.S. efforts to work with Central American governments to crack down on gang violence, strengthen the rule of law, and alleviate poverty.

 

These programs were working – and the Trump Administration knows it.

Why do I say that?

 

In recent years, Congress has not only increased funding for foreign assistance to Central America, but required these governments to meet clear benchmarks demonstrating their progress in areas like combating drug trafficking and strengthening their legal systems.

 

The Trump Administration has acknowledged the effectiveness of these programs on several occasions. In fact, they have sent Congress NINE DIFFERENT REPORTS certifying that these benchmarks were being met.

 

Here’s one of them, signed by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. It reads

“By virtue of the authority vested in me as Secretary of State, including pursuant to section 7045(a)(3)(A) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related

Programs Appropriations Act, 2018… I hereby certify that the government of El Salvador is:

  • Informing its citizens of the dangers of the journey to the southwest border of the United States;
  • Combatting human smuggling and trafficking;
  • Improving border security, including preventing illegal migration, human smuggling and trafficking, and trafficking of illicit drugs and other contraband;
  • And cooperating with United States government agencies and other governments in the region to facilitate the return, repatriation, and reintegration of illegal migrants arriving at the southwest border of the United States who do not qualify for asylum, consistent with international law.”

This is the just one of the certifications we’ve received from the Secretary of State.

But as we all know, this President has no respect for facts or evidence-based reality.

 

His decision to punish Central American governments for the migration crisis by slashing aid is only making the crisis worse.

 

It makes absolutely no sense!

 

If we want to reduce migration from Central America, we need a bold strategy to address the root causes driving families in fear from their homes.

 

That’s why my colleagues and I have introduced the Central America Reform And Enforcement Act.

 

Our bill would dramatically expand U.S. engagement in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala through proven programs that help strengthen the rule of law, combat violence and build prosperity.

 

Our bill would also minimize border crossings by expanding refugee processing centers in the region in an effort to reduce demand at the border.

 

Finally, it includes several measures to protect the welfare of children and ensure efficient, fair, and timely processing of asylum-seekers.

 

Now, this Administration may wish the Northern Triangle’s serious problems would just ‘go away’, but the longer we let these conditions fester the greater this migration crisis will become.

 

And there’s a very real possibility that President Trump views a growing crisis at the border as an asset in his path to re-election in 2020.

 

The President believes his best shot at winning elections is to stoke fear of migrant children who pose no threat but desperately need the safe embrace of lady liberty.

After all, President Trump cannot campaign on solving the student loan debt crisis, or providing Americans with better, cheaper health care, or making sure that big corporations pay their fair share.

 

He has failed on all these fronts and more.

 

The only play left in the Trump playbook is to blame immigrants for America’s problems instead of solving America’s problems.

 

That is what I call the politics of hate.

 

The politics of hate is what led President Trump to attempt to ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. 

 

The politics of hate is what led President Trump to end DACA and threaten 800,000 Dreamers with deportation to countries they’ve never called home... Young people who were brought to the United States through no choice of their own and who have pledged allegiance to no other flag than the United States and who know no other home than America.

 

The politics of hate is what led President Trump to attack TPS holders and jeopardize thousands of parents to American-born children.

 

The politics of hate is what led the Trump Administration to forcibly separate nearly 2,800 children from their parents -- and maybe thousands more. Because they don’t even have a record keeping system for where these child are. A policy that will forever be a stain in our history.

The politics of hate led President Trump to tweet out his plan to send ICE agents into our communities to terrorize our towns and cities with mass arrests and mass deportations.

 

A plan that would leave millions of U.S.-born American citizen children wondering why Mom never came to pick me up at school or why Dad never made it home for dinner. A plan that would inflict traumatic and irreparable harm to American children who would not only have to reckon with the loss of a parent but the loss of the income provided by that parent.

 

The politics of hate led to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico amid dangerous conditions. Indeed just yesterday U.S. asylum officers requested the courts block the Trump Administration from requiring migrants to stay in Mexico, stating it’s “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international domestic legal obligations.”

 

And now, I fear it is the politics of hate that explain the awful press reports we’ve heard today suggesting President Trump plans to end a program that protects undocumented members of U.S. military families from deportation. 

 

Imagine that. Someone who wears the uniform of the United States half way around the world, and now you are going to take away the one program that put their mind at ease if their spouse or child was undocumented?

 

Well I say if someone is willing to wear the uniform of the United States, pledge allegiance to our flag, and risk their life to defend this nation in battle, then the last thing we ought to do is deport their loved ones.

 

The Trump Administration’s policies at our border have brought us nothing but chaos and despair and shame.

 

We cannot let the politics of fear and hate degrade the values that make America great.

We cannot wall off our country from the strife gripping Central America.

We cannot tweet our way out of this problem.

 

We must lead our way out of this problem, with real solutions and strategies that bring sanity, dignity, and order back to our border, and prevent the kind of tragic loss of human life we saw earlier this week on the banks of the Rio Grande.

 

We are just better than this. And if my colleagues do not raise their voices, then they are complicit. History will judge us poorly.

 

So I hope that we will have bipartisan voices that say this is not who we are, and that together we can work to ensure a tragedy like in this photo never happens again.

I yield my time.

 

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