Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Thursday demanded that U.S. Customs and Border Protection allow TV crews inside an immigrant detention center to document the treatment of thousands of children.
The two senators made this demand after a rise in reports of filthy and other unsafe conditions in detention centers, including incidents of sexual abuse.
“We are concerned by reports that media organizations have been denied access to the Nogales Processing Center to observe and document the conditions in these facilities for the large number of unaccompanied children being held there,” they wrote to CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske.
“In the face of this humanitarian crisis, barring the news media from gathering information that is certainly in the public’s interest undermines principles fundamental to transparency and democracy,” they added. “We understand the need to ensure the privacy and safety of those individuals at this facility, but feel certain a compromise that safeguards these interests can be reached.”
Thousands of child immigrants have been trying to cross the southern U.S. border in Texas, which has strained the ability of the border officials to keep up with border enforcement duties as they handle the overflow. The government said it expects 60,000 unaccompanied minor immigrants this year, but some say that number will be much higher.
Officials have shipped some detained children to Arizona, which has prompted members of Congress from that state to a ask why and learn more about how they are being detained.
Earlier in the week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said under current law, child immigrants detained at the border must be handed over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. He admitted that this policy could be something that is prompting people in Central American countries to send their children to the U.S., but also said these attempted border crossings violate the law.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and others have said the flood of child immigrants was prompted by the perception that the Obama administration is not enforcing immigration laws consistently, and has deferred deportation for younger immigrants who entered the country years ago as minors.
“This action in 2012 sent a message, apparently, to other people who were anxious to come to the United States,” Cornyn said Tuesday. “So the message was, if you can come to America and you get here.. you’re not going to be sent back home.”