WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Tina Smith visited the U.S.-Mexico border Friday as part of a group of Democratic lawmakers who toured southern Texas to see the living conditions of families detained at the border.
Congressional representatives visited the South Texas Family Residential Center an hour southwest of San Antonio to examine the treatment of children who were detained with their mothers as they sought asylum. Smith said she heard stories of a 14-year-old who had been locked up for six months and had suicidal thoughts.
“I was really struck by the damage that [these children] are experiencing,” said Smith, who was raised in New Mexico. “You can’t really see it on the outside, but the trauma that they’re going through in this situation is what worries me in the long term.”
Smith’s tour of three immigrant detention facilities in Texas this week comes as some members of Congress are calling for the Trump administration to stop funding such facilities amid national debate over the treatment of young people apprehended with their parents after they enter the country illegally. Following criticism and legal challenges to the policy of separating families at the border, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June that would keep families together in custody while their cases were processed.
For months, Democrats have been touring the region and leveling strong criticism of the administration. Trump and his allies said that if Congress is so strongly opposed to the policies, they should change the laws.
Smith’s visit came days after a 7-year-old girl apparently died of dehydration and cardiac arrest after being taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Minnesota’s junior senator spoke to the Star Tribune by phone as the group’s van traveled to Karnes County Residential Center, Southeast of San Antonio. On Saturday, the lawmakers will go to the port of entry in Tornillo,Texas, where more than 2,000 immigrant children are being held in tents.
Smith said she visited the Texas centers because “it’s incumbent on us to provide some oversight when it comes to what the government in this administration is doing.”