***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Plays ProPublica Audio on Senate Floor of Children Crying as they are Separated From Parents

***VIDEO RELEASE*** Menendez Plays ProPublica Audio on Senate Floor of Children Crying as they are Separated From Parents


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez addressed the growing crisis caused by the Trump Administration’s policy of family separation on the Senate Floor, and played audio from ProPublica of children in detention centers screaming about their parents being taken from them, saying, “They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the audio released yesterday by ProPublica – it’s worth a million tears. How do you submit the cries of innocent children to the congressional record? I don’t know how you do that, but you can hear it.” Watch Menendez play the audio here.


Senator Menendez is an original cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to keep immigrant families together and prevent the DHS from separating children from their parents at the border. All 49 members of the Democratic caucus are supporting the Keep Families Together.

Full transcript of the Senator’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follows:

M. President, today I rise in condemnation of the Trump Administration’s heartless, cruel and inhumane policy of separating children from their parents when they seek asylum at our southern border.  

I do so as the son of refugees who fled their homeland and came to this country because they longed to be free.  I do so as a Catholic appalled by what’s being done in the name of my Christian faith.

I do so out of concern, as the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the cruelty being conducted in the name of the U.S. government may cause lasting damage to America’s reputation in the world.

I do so as a parent who knows that there is no love more powerful, no love more universal, than love for your child.  And it is love that has driven these families to seek asylum in the United States.

Seeking asylum is not a crime. It is a cry for mercy. An act of desperation.  The trauma being inflicted on these children and the anguish being inflicted on these parents is a direct result of the Trump Administration’s decision to criminalize asylum seekers and persecute families fleeing for their lives.

President Trump is lying to the American people when he says that family separation is the law of the land. He is lying when he says Democrats put a law on the books mandating children be terrorized in this way.  Under previous Administrations’ policies, families remained together while waiting for their asylum claims to proceed through our immigration courts.

But this President has broken with the basic standards of decency that have guided past Administrations – Republican and Democrat alike. 

The criminalizing of asylum seekers is in fact a newly-unveiled policy.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions calls it a “zero tolerance policy.”  I say it’s a zero humanity policy. A zero compassion policy.

This policy of persecuting families fleeing for their lives comes straight from the white nationalist fringe. It’s been in the works for more than a year – going all the way back to when Chief of Staff John Kelly was Secretary of Homeland Security.  Back in March 2017, then-Secretary John Kelly said that the “name of the game is deterrence.” He said that if the Administration began separating kids from their parents, they could deter migrants from traveling to our southern border. 

And we’ve since heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions double-down on this theme of deterrence. He said, “If people don't want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them… If you bring children, you'll still be prosecuted." 

To those who spout this perverse notion of deterrence, I ask this question.  How do you deter a mother trying to protect her son from the brutality of forced servitude? How do you deter a father trying to protect his daughter from being raped and tortured? How do you deter a family so fearful for their safety that they are willing to embark on a perilous journey and travel thousands of miles to reach the United States?

The answer is that you can’t – not without addressing the root causes of this forced migration.

Most of these families 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. Any parent who resists is killed.

These countries suffer from some of the highest homicide rates in the world – and the violence against women is particularly appalling. 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 a choice. It’s either: stay and die, or flee for a chance to live.

The facts show this policy of deterrence isn’t deterring anyone. That’s because it’s hard to deter people who are fleeing for their lives.

In recent months, we’ve seen the number of people seeking safety and refuge rise. There were 36,682 apprehensions at the border back in February. By April that number jumped to 50,924. In May, the number again rose to nearly 52,000.

If we aim to reduce forced migration, we must improve the conditions in the region. Our only hope at doing so is by working with the Governments of the Northern Triangle.  By exercising smart diplomacy. By working together to find solutions to promote the rule of law, provide public safety, and free communities of the terror of transnational gang violence.

And yet just a few hours ago, President Trump threatened to cut off aid to Central America and Mexico because “they are not sending their best.” In order other words, he would have the policy of the United States be to make the dire conditions in Central America even worse – driving even more families to flee their homes in search of asylum.

Let’s be clear. These individuals are fleeing of their own accord. They are not being “sent”.  We know for a fact that USAID programs that support economic development and governance tangibly provide more opportunities and security.  We have heard directly from young individuals who participate in some of these programs that have found hope, that they have a way to contribute to their communities in their home countries, to feel safe. We must invest more in these programs, not recklessly threaten to cut them off.

This Administration claims to be for law and order. But it deals in chaos and discord.  Tearing innocent children away from their parents is shameful, cruel, and un-American.

President Trump lies with such frequency and such confidence because he knows that the muddier the waters, the harder it is for rays of truth to shine through.

Well, this past weekend some rays of light shined through when former First Lady Laura Bush made her voice heard.  As she wrote in the Washington Post:  “Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

She couldn’t be more right. This isn’t a “PR crisis.” It’s a humanitarian crisis. And it’s a moral crisis for our country. That’s why even members of the Trump Administration are struggling to defend this policy. It’s indefensible.

Will we look back on this policy and be proud? Or will we look back and see it for what it is – yet another dark period in our history in which we as a country failed to live up to the values that make America a beacon of hope and a leader of nations?

It is despicable to see President Trump inflict trauma on innocent children just to score political points with his base. That’s what’s happening here. President Trump and his Republican enablers here in Congress have one strategy left in their playbook for 2018. They cannot run on being fiscally responsible – their trillion-dollar corporate tax cuts have exploded the federal deficit. They cannot run on delivering the American people more affordable health care – because under their watch, health care premiums are soaring and prescription drug costs are surging. 

They cannot run on raising wages – because under their policies most of our nation’s economic gains continue to go to big corporations and the top one percent instead of working families and the middle class.  So the only thing they have to run on is fear.

In 2018, the Republican Party has one message. And it’s a message that says – as the President said earlier today – that these migrants aim to infest our country. That Latino families who are fleeing unthinkable violence are nothing more than pests. That babies and toddlers and middle schoolers pose a threat to our public safety and our national security.

That’s why President Trump is calling on Congress to fix a policy that he himself created. That’s why House Republicans are trying to pass a so-called immigration compromise, when as far as I can see the only thing it compromises is our time-tested system of legal, family-based immigration in this country.

Contrary to Speaker Ryan’s claims, this will do nothing to end the separation of families at the border. It doesn’t address the issue of the President’s “zero tolerance” policy or put an end to this Administration’s cruel practices. Instead, the bill removes protections for asylum seekers and gives the Administration license to lock families into detention for indefinite periods of time.

President Trump and ideologues like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller want to use the tears of innocent children as leverage in their quest to end legal immigration as we know it and force the American people to pay for a ludicrous border wall.

The President, the Attorney General, the DHS Secretary, the White House Chief of Staff are practicing a doublespeak tactic in the hope of confusing the American public.

But there is nothing confusing about separating children from their parents.

The America I know does not put children into cages. The America I know does not rip newborn babies out of their mothers’ arms. The America I know does not treat families fleeing from criminals like they are the criminals.  

President Trump could end this despicable policy today. He can order U.S. Customs and Border Control to stop tearing babies from their mothers’ arms today. He can correct course and restore America’s commitment to basic human rights today.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But the audio released yesterday by ProPublica – it’s worth a million tears.

How do you submit the cries of innocent children to the congressional record? I don’t know how you do that, but you can hear it.