Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King spent part of the weekend at the Mexico border, joining a group of about a dozen Senate Democrats who traveled to McAllen, Texas, for a firsthand look at conditions in holding facilities for asylum seekers.
King said that based on what he saw during his visit, there have been improvements at the holding facilities run by the U.S. Border Patrol. They are air conditioned, have adequate food and water supplies, and he said administrators are no longer busing residents to a separate facility for showers.
But King said workers at some of the nonprofits that are helping to house refugees say a change in federal policy, which is sending some back into Mexico for a few days, is making things worse.
“They are given a number and sent back across the border into Mexico. And come back when your number is called, or two or three days from now, or whenever. The problem is there are really no protections on the Mexican side. The gangs are still there, the traffickers, the sex traffickers,” he said.
King said that new Trump administration policy is making a mockery of the law designed to allow people being persecuted in their home nations to seek refuge in the United States.
“In effect, they have repealed the asylum law. Or they have certainly significantly diminished it. And that’s a real problem. I suspect that will be challenged in court,” he said.
King said he was impressed by the shelter operations run by Catholic Charities, where he said he ran into a college student from Presque Isle who had come to volunteer. The center handles asylum seekers who have cleared their immigration hurdles and are getting ready to go live with a sponsor somewhere in the country.
King said he made notes about the diversity of services offered at the center and plans to send the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security a list of relatively low-cost steps the federal government could take to improve conditions in federal facilities. He said the Trump administration has to focus on long-term solutions to the problems facing Central America, not just the immediate situation along the U.S. border.
“As long as you have the government not being able to control the gangs, the cartels, you are going to have people knocking on our door,” he said.
Until the lives of people in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are stabilized, they will continue to seek sanctuary in the United States, King said.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.