Ohio Sens. Brown, Portman visit camps at U.S.-Mexico border

Published: Monday, July 15, 2019 @ 6:34 PM
Updated: Monday, July 15, 2019 @ 6:34 PM

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and his wife Connie Schultz meet with kids at a facility housing children near the Mexican border last weekend.
Washington Bureau
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and his wife Connie Schultz meet with kids at a facility housing children near the Mexican border last weekend.(Washington Bureau)

Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown have both now received a first-hand view of the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, and both agree that the situation is dire, but they part on their conclusions on who bears responsibility for the crisis.

Both Portman, who visited the new Donna Processing Facility and the McAllen Border Patrol Station, both in Texas on Friday, and Brown, who visited the Port of Entry in El Paso and stopped a migrant shelter Sunday, agree that the situation at the border is a humanitarian crisis that requires results.

But Portman, a Republican, argues the crisis is spurred by a broken immigration system and has been perpetuated by Democrats’ unwillingness to pay for the facilities needed to properly house detainees.

Brown, by contrast, argues that while the system is broken, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are largely to blame for not helping solve the problem, and that the policy of separating family members illustrates the failure of Trump’s border policies.

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In a conference call with reporters Monday, Brown, a Democrat said he went to the border to “bear witness” on the humanitarian crisis.

“I saw up close the inhumanity and the coldness of President Trump’s family separation policy,” he said, saying the families he met were “coming to the country to flee violence, flee persecution.”

“Tearing them apart, locking them in cages — that is not going to fix our broken immigration policy,” he said. “It goes against the values that make this country great.”

Portman, meanwhile, said U.S. law has perpetuated the crisis by releasing those who apply for asylum into the community. Many of those he saw who were detained, he said, will be released within days.

“I think people are surprised to learn most folks are simply released into our communities, and aren’t held,” he said, saying “our laws are actually working to encourage people to make the trip north and get into the country because we don’t have an effective asylum policy that enables us to have an expedited way to determine whether someone is in fear of persecution back home.”

He said while the children and families he saw in the Donna holding facility were being treated well, he was more concerned about the men he saw in the border facility. “That’s where, in my view, the conditions were not something that we want to have in our immigration system,” he said, but said the Democrats have contributed to the problem by underfunding Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

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U.S. Senator Rob Portman meets with children at a holding facility near the Mexican border last weekend.(Washington Bureau)
During his trip, he, a group of Republican senators led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Vice President Mike Pence, had access to detention facilities where they met with children and crowded facilities where adult men were packed behind chain-linked fences.

By contrast, Brown’s access was largely limited, with government employees effectively barring him from touring some government facilities because he visited on a Sunday, when fewer employees are present.

He said he “didn’t see places where children were housed in cages,” but that he does not doubt footage and accounts taken by his fellow Democratic lawmakers who have also toured immigration facilities.

He said he saw some adults housed in small cells “that didn’t appear to be inhumane,” but were “crowded, to be sure.” He was not allowed to talk to those adults.

Brown, who has worked closely with Portman on trade and pension issues, said he looks forward to talking with Portman about their respective visits.

He said there are “a number of Republicans” that want to find bipartisan solutions but said McConnell “continues to do the bidding of President Trump.”

Trump, Brown said, “doesn’t want any kind of immigration reform or any serious reform that will work other than a border wall. He takes some pride in separating families at the border.”