Panetta visits border, says more resources needed
Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, was part of a fact-finding trip to look at conditions at a southern border facility where unaccompanied younger males seeking asylum in the U.S. are being housed and processed.
“The purpose of a trip like this is to get boots on the ground to see what is happening for your own eyes,” said Panetta.
A group of seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, visited the Department of Health and Human Services facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, last week.
The group sought to ensure asylum laws are being enforced humanely and to acquire the evidence needed to advocate for funding of increased resources to assist the U.S. government to practicably secure the border and properly and compassionately process and adjudicate the claims of asylees fleeing to the United States, said Panetta.
Panetta was invited as part of the delegation for his continued work on immigration reform. He has visited the southern border under similar circumstances four times.
“The facility is run by (Health and Human Services) for unaccompanied males between the ages of 13 to 17 years old,” said Panetta. “The facility has over 700 of these males located there and that’s out of about 14,000 in HHS facilities.”
Panetta said the representatives observed the facility had enough beds to accommodate the males, with bunk beds spaced and allowing four occupants to a room, access to physical activity on soccer and athletic fields, education, and good food while being processed.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the temporary care of unaccompanied children referred by immigration officials to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, HHS has prioritized safety by modifying operations following CDC guidelines, which include quarantining and testing newly arrived children and adhering to social distancing principles in ORR care-provider facilities.
The temporary Influx Care Facility in Carrizo Springs is being used for the placement and care of unaccompanied children as necessary and required by law. The facility started taking in individuals Feb. 22. It was initially activated in June 2019 but has remained unoccupied since July 2019.
“They are basically taken in and processed before being sent to relatives living in the (U.S.),” said Panetta.
As the children enter the Office of Refugee Resettlement care, they are put in contact with their parents, guardians, or relatives, and the process of finding a suitable sponsor begins. The vast majority of sponsors are a parent or a close family relative living in the U.S., according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
While Office of Refugee Resettlement programs are determining whether an individual is an appropriate sponsor, unaccompanied children are provided age-appropriate care and wraparound services in one of the approximately 200 facilities and programs in 22 states in the care-provider network.
To care for and process the unaccompanied children that arrive, it takes time and resources. Panetta has visited the situation at the border four times in the last two years and said that to deal with the influx safely, we must realize people are fleeing their home countries not just for economic reasons but also the violence in those countries.
“The number one takeaway from these trips is that more resources need to be allocated in the short-term and the long-term,” said Panetta. “I’ll continue my fight for immigration reform in this country.”
Rep. Panetta said that no matter how humane or inhumane U.S. policies are towards people seeking asylum, they will still come here.
“I believe it is going to be not just money but also humanitarian assistance,” said Panetta.
He said that resources to properly and compassionately deal with the southern border challenges must be increased. Panetta wants to see more secure borders with reasonable and applicable technology and infrastructure but also funding for more resources to administer a more orderly and humane way to deal with and determine the claims of the overwhelming number of asylum seekers.
Those resources should include more immigration judges, court personnel, officers, monitors, courts, shelters, facilities and more.
He said to stop people from making the dangerous trek north, individuals need to be able to start the immigration process in their home country. Panetta said the U.S. must find out if it is possible to safely make such determinations in the home countries of the migrants and provide the resources to analyze and help fix the root causes of what is driving people out of those countries to the U.S.
Unlike the last administration that took away resources and imposed inhumane policies as a deterrent, this administration needs to provide more resources to deal with the deluge of people coming to the southern border, said Panetta.
“We need to work to reduce the corruption, violence, gang activity and more in the Northern Triangle countries of where most of these individuals come from including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador,” Panetta said. “That’s what I believe this administration is willing to do.”