WASHINGTON — A week ago, Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton toured an emergency child crisis center in Phoenix. It was his first look at a facility where the Border Patrol sends undocumented children five and younger to stay after they have been separated from their families.
"When I walked into the nursery, I saw babies as young as ten months old being held in government custody [and] cradled by adults unknown to them," Stanton said Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing. The hearing focused on the Trump administration's policy of separating families found entering the country illegally.
According to Customs and Border Protection officials, 66,400 undocumented children have arrived at the U.S. border in the last year. The Office of Refugee Resettlement said it did not have figures on how many of those children were tender age, defined as those five years old and younger.
The children are declared undocumented and separated if their parents are wanted for crimes in the U.S. or if they travel with someone who is not their parent, including other relatives.
The children Stanton saw were separated from parents or their families. In some cases, Stanton said, the children arrived at the crisis center in poor health.
"Staff don't believe DHS is supposed to transfer sick children to their custody," Stanton told Brian Hastings, the head of law enforcement operations for CBP. "But their experience is that DHS employees give children Tylenol to mask the symptoms and transfer the sick children to them."
Hastings said he was not aware that happened.
"We're doing the best we can with the resources we have and we're not, to my knowledge, turning over sick kids," Hastings said.
Stanton learned Thursday the Trump administration is looking for more locations to house undocumented children. Its plan calls for 20,000 permanent beds for undocumented children by December 2020. Phoenix is one of several cities being considered as a site to house the children.
"We have plenty of permanent state-licensed facilities in partnership with the states and communities you represent in order to provide the care of these children referred to us," Jonathan Hayes from the Office of Refugee Resettlement told the committee.
That assurance did not seem to impress many members of Congress, including Stanton, who asked Hastings, "What specific training do Border Patrol agents receive for separating a baby who might still be breastfeeding from its mother?"
Hasting appeared caught off guard by the question but promised to get back to Congressman Stanton once he had an answer.