LOS ANGELES – Calling the separation of families at the U.S.- Mexico border “despicable” and “inhumane,” the county Board of Supervisors vowed Tuesday to pressure legislators not to fund prosecutions of asylum-seeking parents, and to seek permission to visit federal shelters housing children in hopes of uniting them with local relatives.
Supervisor Hilda Solis said families are seeking safe haven, “fleeing their country because of civil discord, because of gang-related violence” and instead are landing in “a massive incarceration system that for the life of me I don’t understand.”
Solis accused federal officials of treating children inhumanely in defiance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, citing reports of verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas warned that “the impact on these young lives is not temporary, but potentially lifelong,” pointing to statements by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Based on a motion by Solis and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the board will send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, House and Senate leaders and its congressional delegation opposing the practice.
The board also directed county lawyers to reach out to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, asking to bring social workers to federal shelters and offer assistance to children who could be placed with relatives in Los Angeles County.
Supervisor Janice Hahn amended the motion to include a request for funding more asylum judges.
Kuehl accused the Trump administration of trying to confuse Americans by identifying asylum seekers as illegal immigrants.
“I’ve seen a lot of despicable acts out of this administration and I keep thinking it can’t get any worse. And then it does,” Kuehl said. “There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum.”
Under the federal “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, if a parent arrives at the border with a child, the parent is taken to a detention center and held awaiting prosecution for illegal border crossing. The child is then treated as “unaccompanied” and transferred to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services until a home can be found with a caregiver or sponsor.
Sessions has defended the policy, saying it amounts to enforcing existing laws, despite the outcry from a wide range of conservative critics, including former first lady Laura Bush and religious leaders like Franklin Graham.
President Donald Trump has laid blame for the tactic on Democratic lawmakers, who he said need to support border security, including billions in funding for a border wall, and help pass immigration reform.
“I hate the children being taken away,” Trump said last week. “The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.”
In a Twitter post Tuesday, Trump against foisted blame on Democrats for the situation at the border, writing, “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the only Republican on the non-partisan Board of Supervisors, generally abstains from voting on immigration issues based on her belief that it is the federal government’s role to manage immigration, but she joined her colleagues in condemning what’s happening at the border.
“I feel that both parties are playing with people’s lives,” Barger said, calling what’s happening at the border “inhumane, unjust and simply unnecessary.”
Both House and Senate Republicans are working on legislation to try to address the issue, though it is not entirely clear whether they can draft something that will pass both houses and get Trump’s approval.
Barger said she would continue to call and press Congressional representatives to pass immigration reform.
“I will hope that my party will do the right thing,” Barger said. “If they don’t … I will continue to call them out.”