Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The House Oversight Committee condemned the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday for blocking lawmakers from entering immigration detention centers. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP Photo)

House Democrats Denounce DHS For Blocking Lawmakers' Access to Detention Centers Amid Reports of Rampant Abuse

"This is definitely how you act when you have nothing to hide. Totally."

Julia Conley

The House Oversight Committee on Thursday demanded access to immigration detention facilities after the Trump administration abruptly canceled planned tours of 11 detention centers—preventing lawmakers from delivering the oversight they are constitutionally bound to provide.

"The department's last-minute denial of access to CBP facilities and unwarranted restrictions at ICE facilities are unacceptable and impair the committee's ability to conduct oversight responsibilities in an effective manner," wrote (pdf) committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

DHS drew criticism on social media for its refusal to grant the lawmakers access, with one observer writing sarcastically, "This is definitely how you act when you have nothing to hide."

Cummings condemned acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan for blocking lawmakers' access shortly after committee staffers returned from a preliminary visit to the facilities—where they reportedly witnessed serious abuse and neglect of migrants.

In Cummings's letter to the Department of Homeland Security, he detailed some of what staffers saw during ICE and CBP site visits earlier this month, including:

  • a man who shouted through a glass partition at a detention center in Mississippi that he was being abused and humiliated by ICE agents and asking to speak with staffers—only to have an ICE official threaten to end the tour and cancel future visits if committee staff spoke to him
  • immigrants who reported that young children where being detained in cold rooms without appropriate clothing
  • parents who were not being given sufficient diapers for their babies
  • immigrants who told the staffers that they had been pressured into signing English-language documents without translation and denied access to phones

The accounts were not unlike numerous reports of abuse in ICE's hundreds of detention facilities where thousands of immigrants are being held for crossing the U.S. border without going through a designated point of entry.

In June, a team of legal experts spoke to children and parents at facilities near El Paso, Texas. The children told them they had no access to soap and toothbrushes, while parents reported they were being given dirty bottles to feed their babies. The team of advocates called the centers "torture facilities."

Human rights organizations and Democrats in Congress have raised alarm about conditions in detention centers, especially as at least seven children have died of preventable causes while in custody.

"It appears that the administration expects Congress to be satisfied with receiving agency tours of facilities—in some cases without the ability to photograph conditions or interview detainees—and not to question the policies or decisions that agency officials make," Cummings wrote in his letter.

"That is not the way effective oversight works," he continued. "Congress has an independent responsibility under the Constitution to determine whether federal programs are operating as they should be―not merely to accept the administration's word for it."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Despite Housing Crisis, Mississippi May Return Up to Millions in Federal Rent Aid to DC

"For them to suggest people like me aren't working? It's a slap in the face," said one woman affected by the end of the pandemic assistance program. "It's very insulting and degrading."

Brett Wilkins ·


80% of US Voters Across Party Lines Support Expanding Social Security

"With Republicans threatening to cut benefits—and worse, eliminate the program entirely—Dems need to make clear they're fighting to protect and expand benefits."

Jessica Corbett ·


Rich Nations Again Accused of Vaccine Hoarding as UK OKs Moderna Omicron Booster

"While countries like the U.K. buy updated vaccines for their fourth doses, people in low- and middle-income countries are fighting today's variants with yesterday's vaccines."

Brett Wilkins ·


With Trumpian Claims of Cheating, Starbucks Demands Halt to Union Elections

"Unfortunately, it's now in vogue for the losers of some elections nationwide to attempt to reverse elections by any means they think are necessary," said Starbucks Workers United.

Jake Johnson ·


Richest Country on Earth to One of Its Poorest: We're Keeping the Money We Stole From You

A foreign affairs columnist called the move by the Biden administration a "shortsighted, morally unconscionable, and potentially calamitous decision for a country on the cusp of universal poverty."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo