Two of President Donald Trump’s administration faced the awkward task of defending the president’s “zero tolerance” family separations policy when Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked them whether they would send their own children to the detention centers where migrants are being held.
Referring to remarks from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Matthew Albence which likened the detention centers to “summer camps,” Hirono inquired whether members of the panel — which included Albence and Jennifer Higgins of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — would send their own children to “FRCs” (family residential centers).
“I-I certainly think that, in general practice, people would prefer to be free, to move about,” Higgins replied, adding that the centers that she saw “did, as described, have schools and…”
At this point, Hirono cut her off. “And you would send your child to these centers?”
“I… uh,” Higgins stammered.
“Yes? No?” Hirono asked.
“That’s a difficult question to answer,” Higgins said. “It’s difficult to put myself in the position of an individual who takes a dangerous journey, um, in which their child can be harmed, let alone whether I would send my children.”
“Well, these are deemed summer camps, so you know,” Hirono responded before turning her attention to Albence. “Mr. Albence, would you send your child to FRCs?”
“Again, I think we’re missing the point,” Albence said. “These individuals are there because they have broken the law. There has to be a process…
“They have broken the law only as deemed so by the president as deemed so by his––” Hirono began.
“No, ma’am,” Albence said, adding that individuals are jailed “for violation of Title VIII of the U.S. Nationality Act.” He further cited U.S.C. 1325, which he says classifies “illegal entry as both a criminal and civil violation.” He added that individuals are detained “pending that civil immigration process.”
Hirono responded that, based on her understanding, the “zero tolerance” policy renders civil proceedings criminal ones.
“They were criminal proceedings when Border Patrol prosecuted them, but at the conclusion of that process, once the individual came into ICE custody, they would go through administrative proceedings,” Albence said, noting that individuals face criminal proceedings when prosecuted for “the criminal violation of improper entry.”
“That was the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, right, that everyone would be prosecuted in a criminal proceeding? Is that not right?”
“That is correct,” Albence replied.
You can watch the video from the hearing below.
Albence has faced significant criticism for his comments, which mirror remarks made by Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, who in June described the detention centers housing immigrant children as “essentially summer camps.”
“As more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents,” Ingraham said at the time. “And temporarily housed at what are, essentially, summer camps.”
Laura Ingraham describes the detention facilities where children are sent after being forcibly separated from their parents as "essentially summer camps." pic.twitter.com/K6ao3lbS6Q
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) June 19, 2018
Albence’s justifications have continued despite statements from Jonathan White, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, who said that he had been critical of the Trump administration’s policy from the start.
“During the deliberative process over the previous year, we raised a number of concerns in the (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interests of the child as well as about whether that would be operationally supportable with the bed capacity that we had,” White said. “There’s no question that separation of children from their parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”