The last time Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick visited a camp that reminded him of the one he did on Saturday, he was serving as an FBI special agent deployed to Iraq.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers traveled to Tornillo, Texas, to inspect a government-operated detention site for migrant minors. There were rows of tents with beds, a medical unit, and other services for the children being detained.
“The facility itself, as you may expect, was in decent condition. It was all in tents,” he said. “It almost looked like when I was over in Iraq, a tent city set up.”
While the conditions for the lawmakers’ pre-announced visit seemed “aboveboard,” Fitzpatrick said the government should be working to reunite unauthorized immigrant families separated from their children “immediately.”
He said the visit to the site that is operated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was insightful and his conversation with leaders from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection gave him and the other lawmakers more information on the crisis at the border.
“I wanted to base my views on first-hand knowledge and not second-hand reports,” he said.
A government official at the site told the bipartisan group of lawmakers that the recent “zero tolerance” policy of President Donald Trump’s administration to separate children from their parents who crossed into the country illegally with them was designed to act as a deterrent. The idea was that migrants making their way through Mexico to the United States from the so-called the Northern Triangle of Central America, which is made up of the countries El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, would pass along the message that they should not cross into America illegally.
Migrants from the three countries make up an increasing portion of the people who cross illegally along the 1,900-mile-long boundary in the south, according to data released last year by the Pew Research Center.
The statements made to Fitzpatrick and other lawmakers align with comments made by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week on a Fox News Channel opinion show and internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by CNN. However, another administration official, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, said last week that the separations are not being used to deter unauthorized immigrants from crossing the border, calling the idea “offensive” and “not true.”
In response to being asked about the shift in reasoning for the separation policy that has played out in recent weeks, Fitzpatrick said he “wants transparency in all facets of government – no matter what party or administration.”
The congressman said he did not receive many answers to questions posed of federal authorities at the Tornillo site. He said the officials said they plan to compile information and release it to the members of Congress.
“The plans for reunification (between the kids and their parents) is the most time-sensitive issue,” Fitzpatrick said.
Officials on the ground at the camp did not not supply numbers of children being held at the site to lawmakers but noted they were split between minors taken from their parents and those who showed up at the border unaccompanied by their parents.
Fitzpatrick said he is also expecting answers on how federal officials track children separated from their parents, what the future timeline is, and what the policies are right now. Federal officials, the congressman said, acknowledged that they were still adjusting to Trump’s executive order that altered the policy and reversed some aspects of the previously “zero tolerance” mandate.
“I want to hold HHS’ feet to the fire if they don’t respond,” the congressman said.
“If we don’t get an adequate response, we’re going to go back down there.”
CBS News reported the Trump’s executive order will allow for migrant families picked up at the border to be held together through prosecution and deportation from the United States. Up until late last week, the children were separated from their parents and turned over to the custody of HHS.
“I think it’s inhuman and it does not serve as a deterrent,” Fitzpatrick said of separating families.
“In no other context do we hold kids accountable for their parents,” he added.
The members of Congress will use the insight gained on their trip to work on immigration reform, Fitzpatrick said, adding he is for Congress passing legislation to end the separation of children from their parents.
The members of Congress who traveled to Texas with Fitzpatrick were: Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from Florida; Mike Coffman, a Republican from Colorado; Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from New York; Roger Marshall, a Republican from Kansas; and Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from New York.
“We all learned something there, and we all left determined to get to the bottom of solving this problem,” he said.
Fitzpatrick, who was interviewed by NewtownPANow.com while heading to Washington D.C. Monday, said it is “unacceptable” that there has been such inaction by lawmakers on the issue of immigration.
He said partisans on the far left and right have hijacked the issue for decades and blocked actual progress.
Democratic congressional challenger Scott Wallace put out a statement before Fitzpatrick’s trip to the camp accusing the lawmaker of “inaction” on the issue.
“This will be one of the great moral tests of our time. I can tell you if I were in office today, I would be busting down doors to put a stop to this – and to hold the administration accountable as it stomps on our American values,” he said.
This will be one of the great moral tests of our time. I can tell you if I were in office today, I would be busting down doors to save these children – and to hold this administration accountable as it stomps on our American values. What is @RepBrianFitz doing? pic.twitter.com/HS6umro9dH
— Scott Wallace (@ScottWallacePA) June 19, 2018
A former FBI special agent, Fitzpatrick said the “flawed” immigration and border laws make it tough for law enforcement on the ground doing their work.
Fitzpatrick has said in the past that he supports increasing security the border through various means and will allow funding for Trump’s expanded border wall in the south. The first-term congressman has also said he supports allowing former DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,”a deal to stay in the country.
Last week, Fitzpatrick was one of several dozen Republicans to vote “no” on the Securing America’s Future Act of 2018 due to the fact it did not have protections for Dreamers, he said.
“Our DACA kids need to be protected,” he said.