ANAMOSA — A $4.6 billion supplemental appropriation will help federal agencies dealing with a humanitarian crisis at the southern border with Mexico, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is calling for additional steps to protect refugees and asylum-seekers.
The crisis is “real and it demands action,” according to Iowa’s senior senator, who held a town-hall style meeting Tuesday in Anamosa.
“We want to find out about abuse and whether children are being protected,” the Republican said, addressing a woman holding a sign that read: “Seeking asylum is legal. Families belong together.”
Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, have requested answers about serious allegations of misconduct and abuse by federally-funded grantees operating facilities that house unaccompanied migrant children.
In a letter to Department of Health and Human Services officials, they raised concerns about the severity and systemic nature outlined in the allegations, including rape and human trafficking. They asked whether the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is meeting its responsibility to hold its grantees accountable and ensure the health and safety of children in their care.
On Monday. congressional Democrats visiting the main Border Patrol facility in El Paso and a facility in Clint, Texas, said migrants were being kept in deplorable conditions. Separately. the nonprofit ProPublica news organization detailed offensive content posted on a private Facebook group for current and former customs and border patrol officers that included jokes about the deaths of migrants.
Lindsey Ellickson of Cedar Rapids, one of more than a dozen Indivisible Iowa demonstrators outside the Anamosa Public Library where Grassley’s town hall was held, agreed that people should be held accountable if the allegations prove true.
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If foster families were treating children the way children are being treated at the detention centers “they would be taken away, the facilities would be investigated and closed,” the social worker said.
“If it’s not OK to treat children that way in Iowa, it’s not OK for the federal government to do it,” Ellickson said.
Grassley responded to a number of questions about immigration and the border during the hourlong meeting. The Southern Border Supplemental Appropriations Act includes $2.9 billion for the care of unaccompanied children and $1.9 billion for housing and care of immigrants.
It also includes funding for 30 immigration judges, which Grassley said is not enough.
“We probably need 300,” he said.
Grassley received a smattering of applause when he talked about “legalizing” children whose parents entered the United States illegally.
“They didn’t violate the law,” Grassley said, but predicted “it will be very difficult to pass legislation to legalize those kids.”
Grassley also was asked about the solvency of Social Security.
“I wish you’d asked me an easier question,” he joked before saying that nothing is being done to extend the retirement program beyond 2034. Democrats and Republicans need to work together on the issue “because it’s so politically sensitive.”
Recent assessments of the program found Social Security can continue to pay full benefits until 2033-34. After that, Grassley said, the 1936 law calls for benefits to be based on cash flow, which is expected to be about 78 percent of what retirees receive today.
“Social Security should be saved (because) it’s part of the social fabric of America,” Grassley said.
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