Detained migrant children ‘should absolutely have access to soap, toothbrushes,’ says Utah Republican congressman

(David J. Phillip | AP file photo) An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving as protesters block the street outside the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, on June 23, 2018. Immigrant children described hunger, cold and fear in a voluminous court filing about the facilities where they were held in the days after crossing the border. Advocates fanned out across the southwest to interview more than 200 immigrant parents and children about conditions in U.S. holding facilities, detention centers and a youth shelter. The accounts form part of a case over whether the government is complying with a longstanding settlement over the treatment of immigrant youth in custody.

Washington • Rep. John Curtis pushed back on the Trump administration’s legal argument that it didn’t have to provide soap, toothbrushes or other hygienic items to child migrants being detained at the U.S.-Mexican border.

“I have been to the border and seen firsthand the unacceptable conditions," Curtis, R-Utah, said in a statement. "Unaccompanied migrant children should absolutely have access to soap, toothbrushes, and other basic amenities while being held in detention facilities, but the answer to the crisis at the border is far more complex than a toothbrush.

“The burden of a solution rests squarely on the shoulders of Congress where both parties have failed,” Curtis continued. "I have consistently called for adequate resources at the border as well as other critical solutions.”

Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, said the government's position was “concerning.”

“We are better than this as a country,” he said in an interview. “And these kids deserve better. This is a complicated situation, to be sure. And, at the very least, we’ve got to provide these kids a safe and sanitary environment."

McAdams said he didn’t know if the administration was trying to punish migrants crossing the border or seeking asylum but that the situation has deteriorated so quickly, it’s hard to manage.

“I don’t know what the motives are, but I know that they’re overwhelmed — the system is overwhelmed,” he said, noting he supports budgeting more money to alleviate the strain on the Border Patrol to provide for the increase in migrants.

A Trump administration lawyer argued in an appeals court hearing in San Francisco last week that a legal settlement reached 22 years ago didn’t specify that the government had to provide soap and toothbrushes, just that the facilities for children be “safe and sanitary.”

That position brought instant blowback from immigration advocates, Democrats and others who charge that children are sleeping in cages on concrete floors and are not being provided with even basic amenities. The New York Times reported that the children — who arrived at the border alone or have been separated from their families — are being given the same meal every day: instant oats for breakfast, instant noodles for lunch, a frozen burrito for dinner and a few snacks of cookies and juice packets.

Sen. Mitt Romney was asked at a town hall Friday night about poor conditions of migrant detention centers, and the Utah Republican said the facilities were underprepared. He also blamed the problem on asylum laws that he said are a loophole that allow immigrants to come into the United States while waiting on a court hearing.

“Well, of course, they never show up to the court hearing,” he said to laughter from the crowd.

Data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University shows that the majority of asylum seekers do show up to court.

Monday evening, Romney issued a statement saying he looks forward to supporting a $5 billion funding package to boost resources at the border.

“There’s no question that we need to ensure compassionate care for migrant children in government custody as a result of the crisis at the border, and reports regarding a lack of resources and proper care are deeply troubling,” Romney said.

He added that the Department of Homeland Security has asked Congress for help and bills making their way through the House and Senate will “address these critical resource challenges.”

Utah’s other members of Congress have yet to speak publicly about the government’s argument against providing soap and toothbrushes.

The Associated Press said Monday afternoon that the government was moving more than 300 children from a Texas Border Patrol station after reports that kids were caring for one another with inadequate food, water and sanitation.

Tribune reporter Sara Tabin contributed to this article.

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