June 05, 2018

Menendez Blasts DHS for Denying Congressional Oversight at Processing Center for Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today sent a letter demanding the Trump Administration clarify why staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were prevented from touring a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigrant processing facility during a Congressional staff delegation visit to the San Diego-Tijuana border this past weekend.

“The public has a right to know what’s happening at the border and how President Trump’s new hardline policy of tearing infants and children out of the arms of their mothers and fathers is being implemented,” Sen. Menendez said.  “By denying our request—which was made with more than ample lead time—it begs the question: Why? What are they hiding?  What don’t they want the public to see is going on at the border?”

In a letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Menendez expressed alarm that DHS would find it appropriate to reject senior Senate committee staff from accessing the facilities after having requested the congressional oversight visit with nine days in advance.

“At a time when DHS and CBP are implementing policies to forcibly separate immigrant children from their parents at U.S. ports of entry, congressional oversight is urgently needed,” wrote the Senator in listing specific questions for the Secretary to answer. “This deeply disturbing decision appears to be an outright attempt to undermine congressional oversight of the executive branch. This is unacceptable.”

On May 24, the Senator’s staff requested a tour of the CBP facilities at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports of entry on June 2, nine days prior to their visit. The night before the scheduled visit,  DHS notified them their request was denied.

The Senator’s letter comes after Senator Jeff Merkley was also denied access to visit an  immigrant children’s shelter in Texas over the weekend.

The text of Senator Menendez’s letter can be found HERE and below: 

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen

Secretary of Homeland Security

Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Nielsen,

As the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), I am writing to express alarm that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied a request from my office to review the procedures and operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the southern border. This deeply disturbing decision appears to be an outright attempt to undermine congressional oversight of the executive branch. This is unacceptable.

On Thursday May 24, a senior member of SFRC staff contacted the DHS Office of Legislative Affairs to request a site visit to CBP facilities in the context of their visit to the San Diego-Tijuana border region on Saturday June 2. SFRC staff specifically asked to review CBP immigrant processing operations at the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa ports of entry.

However, on June 1, SFRC staff was informed that 9 days of advance notice was insufficient and that they would not be able to visit CBP facilities in San Diego. Such a decision runs completely counter to past precedent, as SFRC staff conducted similar visits under this and prior Administrations to examine CBP operations – including in McAllen, Texas in May 2016 and El Paso, Texas in February 2017.

Particularly at a time when DHS and CBP are implementing policies to forcibly separate immigrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum at the border, Congress has a responsibility and right to exercise diligent oversight. This Administration’s family separation policy has the real potential of causing long-term harm and trauma to these children and families. For these reasons, please expeditiously respond to the following questions:

  • Why was my office’s request to review CBP operations in San Diego denied?
  • Will you commit to working with my office to ensure that my staff can visit CBP facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border in the next month?
  • What Members of Congress or congressional staff have been permitted or denied access to CBP operations since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy on May 7, 2018?

I urge you to reverse DHS’s troubling decision to refuse congressional oversight and work with my office to ensure that staff will be granted access to CBP facilities in the next month. The Administration’s new policies are cruel and un-American, and U.S. citizens deserve answers from their government. Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.

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Press Contact

Juan Pachon, 202.224.4130