Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, grew emotional during a news conference Thursday recalling the photos of the father and young daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande, as well as the conditions she saw children facing at the migrant detention centers on the Southern border.
“When you saw the pictures of the kids at these detention facilities. When you saw the father, the little girl drowned in the Rio Grande. And if you didn’t feel shame, pain. If you weren’t appalled by these pictures, then something is dead or dying in your hearts and in the heart of America,” Hirono said at the news conference to introduce the bill “Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act.”
Senate Democrats say the legislation introduced Thursday seeks to provide additional guardrails and standards for migrant children and families two weeks after Congress passed the border supplemental, which was criticized by many Democrats for not doing enough to protect migrants. As Democrats are in the minority in the chamber, it’s unclear whether Republicans will pick up the legislation.
The photo Hirono referenced was of Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter, identified by officials from El Salvador as Angie Valeria M., who drowned in the currents of the Rio Grande late last month as they tried to slip into the United States. The image of the father and his daughter lying face down in the water drew international attention for illustrating the humanitarian crisis at the border.
Hirono was part of a group of Democrats to introduce the new bill Thursday that included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Patty Murray and Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
Schumer said the bill has 36 co-sponsors within the Democratic caucus and said, to his knowledge, every Democratic senator running for president is also a co-sponsor of the bill, although this has not been confirmed independently.
Late last month, Congress passed a $4.6 billion bill to send emergency funding to the border. The passage of that bill sparked outrage particularly among progressive Democrats in the House who felt this version of the bill did not do enough to ensure protections for migrant children in government custody.
Schumer and Merkley both defended the passage of the border supplemental when questions were raised on the issue.
When asked whether Schumer thinks he made a mistake in passing the bill, he said, “No. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell is to blame. We got as much as we could given his blocking of the rest of it, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”
Merkley responded to criticism that Democrats in the Senate were writing a blank check in passing the bill they did.
“Here in the Senate, the leader of the Democrats in the Appropriations Committee, Pat Leahy, worked to get every possible thing he could under the Republican leadership, but what we’re saying with this bill is it’s not enough. We’re saying much more needs to be done. It’s not just sending money to help, it’s changing the entire mistreatment of children from beginning to end,” Merkley said.
Hirono said the conditions at the migrant facilities that she’s seen have gone from bad to worse and she urged the country to support the legislation, saying “this is a bill that needs to pass.”
When asked by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux if there was any value in accepting the invitation and going with Vice President Mike Pence on his trip to the migrant detention center this weekend, she said the presentation will be “a lie to the American people.”
Thursday’s news conference came hours after US Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans became known to begin the previously postponed raids across the country this weekend to arrest thousands of migrant families who already have court orders to be removed, according to a US official.
“The notion that this Sunday they are going to launch mass arrests and mass deportations across the United States, in the city of Chicago, which I’m honored to represent means that thousands of individuals, families, and children will once again be displaced their homes and placed in detention facilities,” Durbin said.
CNN’s Natalie Gallón, Ana Melgar, Steve Almasy, Lauren Fox, Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.