A Republican congressman dismissed a constituent’s concerns about the migrant detention crisis during a heated town hall meeting over the weekend, telling her that children being held in squalid conditions in U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities are free to leave whenever they want.
“The people that are there, they can leave,” said Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN), a first-term congressman. “Nobody is holding them against their will—they can leave.”
The remark, which is factually incorrect, was made in response to an impassioned question from a female constituent who said she was “very concerned about family separation at the border,” which she feared was “causing emotional damage” for the thousands of migrant children currently in the custody of U.S. immigration enforcement.
“It’s not ‘government-sponsored child abuse,’” Hagedorn said in response to the question, prompting boos and hisses from the audience at Rochester Community and Technical College on June 28. “These are not concentration camps—no, they’re not.”
Unlike concentration camps in Nazi Germany, Hagedorn elaborated, those in ICE and Border Patrol custody “can leave.”
In most cases, children and adults alike cannot leave immigration detention centers or Border Patrol holding facilities unless they are eligible for—and can pay—bond while their removal proceedings wind through immigration court. Increasingly indiscriminate enforcement by U.S. immigration authorities, a steadily increasing number of migrants seeking refuge and asylum due to political instability in Central America, and a massive backlog in the immigration court system have all contributed to massive overcrowding in detention centers and Border Patrol stations along the U.S.-Mexico border, to the point that children are often being held in such facilities far longer than allowed by federal law.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General illustrated the dire conditions in such facilities with the release of a report warning that inspections of Border Patrol facilities along the U.S. southern border have revealed “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention” of unaccompanied migrant children.
By Scott Bixby for THE DAILY BEAST
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