WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan, following receipt of a report describing CBP’s efforts to oversee the health of migrant children. In the letter, Rosen calls on the Department to hire additional pediatricians and medical professionals with specialized pediatric experience to care for migrant children detained in U.S. custody.
“Your efforts appear to have yielded the placement of only four pediatricians across more than forty-five locations. It is unclear whether these pediatricians are even providing direct clinical care to migrant infants and children,” wrote Senator Rosen. “This is unacceptable. Our offices have been discussing the need for pediatric medical professionals to care for migrant children at the U.S. southern border since July of this year. The Department must hire additional pediatricians and specialized pediatric medical professionals, with more than cursory basic pediatric training, to ensure the health and wellbeing of migrant infants and children held in CBP custody.”
BACKGROUND: In May, Senator Rosen questioned then-DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on misleading statements DHS officials made to Senator Rosen and Congressman Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24) during their 2018 visit to the US-Mexico Border. Senator Rosen and Congressman Carbajal traveled together to Texas to visit a facility housing unaccompanied immigrant minors in Tornillo and U.S. Custom and Border Protection’s Paso del Norte Processing Center in El Paso. DHS and HHS personnel assured them that their agencies had the information and resources needed to reunite separated migrant families.
In June, Rosen led 17 of her colleagues in sending a letter to then-DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, raising concerns about a recent Office of Inspector General report detailing severe and dangerous overcrowding of migrants at El Paso Del Norte Processing Center during unannounced inspections conducted on May 8 and 9, 2019.
Also in June, Rosen placed holds on two DHS nominees demanding that the substandard conditions for children at DHS processing and detention facilities improve significantly.
In July, Rosen spoke on the Senate floor and outlined three reforms she called on DHS to make to improve conditions for migrants held at the southern border: hiring pediatricians to care for migrant children, placing child welfare professionals in detention facilities, and improving access for non-governmental organizations to provide services and monitor detention conditions.
Also in July, following Rosen’s request for immediate hearings on the health and safety conditions of migrant children in detention and processing centers at the southern border, Rosen questioned CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan and demanded that CBP implement the three reforms previously outlined.
Rosen is a co-sponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, which would ensure that the federal government carries out immigration procedures in the best interest of detained children.
Read the full text of the letter here and below:
The Honorable Chad F. Wolf
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
The Honorable Mark A. Morgan
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20229
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Commissioner Morgan:
Thank you for providing the document entitled U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Increased Care, Capacity and Medical Mitigation Efforts this past Friday, November 15, 2019. The document purports to describe the “medical mitigation efforts” undertaken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including the deployment of medical personnel overseeing the health of migrant children in the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border. Your efforts appear to have yielded the placement of only four pediatricians across more than forty-five locations. It is unclear whether these pediatricians are even providing direct clinical care to migrant infants and children.
This is unacceptable. Our offices have been discussing the need for pediatric medical professionals to care for migrant children at the U.S. southern border since July of this year. The Department must hire additional pediatricians and specialized pediatric medical professionals, with more than cursory basic pediatric training, to ensure the health and wellbeing of migrant infants and children held in CBP custody.
This month, the United Nations released a report stating that nearly 70,000 children spent time in detention in the U.S. this year. By this count, the United States detained more children in 2019 than anywhere else in the world. Detained children can experience “developmental delays and poor psychological adjustment [,] . . . posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and other behavioral problems.” Pediatricians and medical personnel with pediatric experience specialize in promptly identifying and treating illnesses in children and can provide a qualified diagnosis of overall patient health. Additionally, illnesses in children can manifest differently than in adults, with varying symptoms, severity, and complications.
Even under the best conditions, detention can have profound impacts on a child’s physical and mental health. It is indisputable that the children detained at CBP facilities at the southern border suffered substandard, inhumane conditions. At least seven children died in CBP custody. Plainly, four pediatricians are woefully insufficient to address the health needs of thousands of detained children.
The increase in contracted medical professionals at CBP detention facilities holding migrant children is a step in the right direction, but there is no excuse after the tragedies of the past year not to have adequate specialized pediatric medical staffing. If the Department is committed to solving the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. southern border – as you both committed to me in public hearings and, in the case of Acting Secretary Wolf, a private call – it must take immediate action to hire additional pediatricians and medical professionals with certified pediatric experience.
If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss further, please contact me or have your office contact Alejandro Renteria on my staff at (202) 224-6244.