Dems step up oversight amid detention center firestorm
Top House Democrats are escalating their response to Donald Trump’s handling of the migrant crisis at the border, making a direct plea to the president to improve conditions and ramping up their oversight of agencies at the center of a growing political firestorm.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to Trump this week urging his administration to guarantee certain standards — like water, hygiene and sanitation — for detained migrants, just days after losing a legislative battle with Senate Republicans over those same protections. The letter comes after a 14-minute call with the president on Friday, according to an aide.
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Pelosi also sent a “Dear Colleague” letter on Tuesday to mobilize her caucus on the issue of border detention facilities, writing, “Every day that goes by, we have even greater cause for concern and urgency to enact the protections for children and families.”
And on Tuesday, a key House committee summoned a pair of top officials from the Department of Homeland Security to testify on Capitol Hill amid a slew of political crises, including new photos of “dangerous overcrowding” in U.S. facilities and a secret Facebook group in which some agents mocked dead migrants.
The House Oversight Committee is demanding to hear from the acting head of DHS, Kevin McAleenan, who has been at the forefront of the White House’s response to the recent surge of migrants at the border.
McAleenan’s handling of the border crisis drew further criticism on Tuesday, after a damning inspector general’s report found “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detention of children” in a facility in Texas.
Democrats also summoned Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which has been consumed this week with another scandal — a Facebook group with thousands of current and former agents posting racist and sexist images of Democratic lawmakers and making fun of a recent photo of a father and daughter who were found drowned in the Rio Grande.
Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said on Tuesday that he plans to investigate the matter, and sent a letter to Facebook officials requesting all posts and comments — as well as deleted content — from the 3-year-old Facebook group.
Democrats first issued invitations to McAleenan and Morgan last week, according to the committee. But it’s not clear that either will respond willingly, as neither has confirmed attendance.
The committee has given both officials until Wednesday to respond to its request for testimony. Though Cummings has not threatened to subpoena them if they refuse to confirm their attendance, he has shown that he’s willing to attempt to compel testimony if witnesses snub his panel. Last week, Cummings subpoenaed Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for refusing to appear at a hearing about her alleged violations of the Hatch Act.
Democrats announced the hearing, which is scheduled for July 12, at the same time they released a damning inspector general’s report that found “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detention of children.”
Among the findings is a disturbing photo that shows mothers and young children packed into tight rooms in a Rio Grande Valley detention center, where they appeared to sleep on concrete floors.
Cummings described the Trump administration’s response at the border as “open contempt for the rule of law and for basic human decency.”
“The Trump Administration’s actions at the southern border are grotesque and dehumanizing,” the Maryland Democrat wrote in a release announcing the hearing. “The Committee needs to hear directly from the heads of these agencies as soon as possible in light of the almost daily reports of abuse and defiance.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus reacted with fury to the inspector generals’ findings on Tuesday, describing the 16-page report as full of “egregious violations” of human rights, such as denying migrants’ access to showers and hot meals.
The report also found that 165 children had been in custody of the border patrol agency longer than a week — far above the 72-hour court mandated limit.
House Democratic leaders have sought an aggressive response to the border crisis, seeking new conditions to strengthen oversight of the Trump administration.
But an emergency aid package signed into law this week largely ignored those requests, which were demanded by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and progressive leaders. Instead, the White House agreed to certain administrative changes that would, for example, require officials to notify Congress when a child has died in custody.
Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.