(CN) – A bipartisan federal watchdog issued a scathing condemnation of U.S. immigration policies Thursday, citing a laundry list of human and civil rights violations along the southern border including lack of adequate food, overcrowding and illness.
The U.S. Commission on Human Rights report, “Trauma at the Border: The Cost of Inhumane Immigration Polices,” examines the fallout from increasingly restrictive and punitive policies under the administration of President Donald Trump.
Atop the commission’s list of abuses: separating families at the border. Although previous administrations also separated thousands of immigrant families, Trump has stepped up the practice – leaving a trail of destruction that may be permanent, the report says.
“The impact of separating immigrant families and indefinite detention is widespread, long-term, and perhaps irreversible physical, mental and emotional childhood trauma,” commission vice chair Patricia Timmons Goodson wrote in a letter to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
The commission found that under the Trump administration, more than 14,000 children have been held in detention – an all-time high. One key reason is that current policy requires background checks, including immigration status, for anyone who claims or takes responsibility for a detained child. Previous administrations allowed relatives to pick children up with less scrutiny, the report says.
Policies that have degraded the human rights picture include zero tolerance (prosecuting all border crossers), family separations with no plan for reunification, metering (only processing a few asylum cases daily at border crossings), and removing domestic violence as a basis for asylum, the report says.
The report is based on immigrant interviews, government investigations, media reports and eyewitness accounts. It does not contain any information from the relevant federal agencies, because “regretfully, they did not respond to our discovery requests,” the report says.
One asylum seeker from El Salvador was held in Texas, where he said there were no chairs or beds and he had only metallic emergency blankets to stay warm.
“They accused us of being smugglers … the guards humiliated us. We had to strip in front of one another and put on prison clothes. The officers laughed at us,” he told the commission.
Among the commission’s recommendations:
- The Department of Homeland Security should beef up oversight of detention facilities and policies;
- Congress should expand the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. That office should clear immigration policies before they are implemented;
- Congress should set minimum humane standards for detention conditions based on “reasonable care and safety, and not on incarceration standards”;
- Congress should require that no funds be used to detain asylum seekers, except in narrow circumstances;
- Allow the commission to conduct independent detention facility inspections on less than 24 hours’ notice;
- Ensure funds are available to hire, train and retain qualified administrative law judges and staff to process asylum applications.
The latest report is a follow-up to the commission’s 2015 report, “With Liberty and Justice for All: The State of Civil Rights at Immigration Facilities.” The update was sparked by worsening conditions along the southern border and changes under the Trump administration.