Washington, D.C. – Ahead of leading a bipartisan trip to border facilities in Texas, Senator Mazie K. Hirono spoke on the Senate Floor yesterday on the need to show compassion to the unaccompanied children fleeing Central America for the United States. Hirono, the only immigrant in the Senate, shared stories of the danger children are desperately fleeing in their home countries.
Watch Hirono’s full remarks here. Hirono is leading a bipartisan delegation – including Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske – to Texas border facilities in McAllen and Lackland Air Force Base tomorrow, Friday.
Hirono’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
I rise today to speak about the ongoing humanitarian crisis on our Southern Border.
As a woman and an immigrant, my heart breaks for these children.
My mother fled Japan out of desperation to escape a terrible marriage.
I came with her to this country as a young girl and I remember how uncertain I was about what was in store for us.
Although we rode a ship in steerage, at least we traveled safely and together.
We did not face the same kind of danger as these children, who are risking everything to be here.
Their journeys to our border are lined with smugglers and traffickers.
Children are arriving injured and malnourished.
Yet they continue to come, not just to the U.S. but to other nearby countries, fleeing their countries out of desperation.
These children don’t care about the DREAM Act or the Senate’s immigration reform bill.
They are terrified of the violence, abuse, and death in their home countries.
Young girls – who represent 40 percent of the children who arrived this year – often face sexual assault and rape.
Let me share some recent stories from young girls who are fleeing.
One girl fled an area of El Salvador controlled by gangs.
Her brother was killed for refusing to join a gang that tried to forcibly recruit him.
She was raped by two men and became pregnant as a result.
She fled El Salvador and was attacked on her journey to the U.S.
Another girl was kidnapped by a gang in Honduras that attempted to traffic her into prostitution.
She escaped and reported the kidnapping to the police.
The gang then abducted her again, raped her, and burned her with cigarettes.
She fled to the U.S. and is seeking asylum.
Yet another girl fled El Salvador when she was 8 years old.
Gang members had kidnapped her two older sisters.
The girls’ mother did not want her 8-year-old daughter to suffer the same fate, so she arranged for her daughter to be brought to the U.S.
These are horrific stories.
It’s clear that something needs to be done.
I have worked with my colleague Senator Menendez to introduce a comprehensive plan to address this issue.
The plan aims to curtail trafficking and smuggling, contain the violence and discord in Central America, and ensure that these children have access to legal assistance and are in safe and humane conditions when they arrive here.
This Friday, I will also take some of my colleagues to McAllen and San Antonio, Texas, to view facilities housing these children during the processing and removal process.
We see for ourselves the conditions that these children are in and meet with officials and leaders on the ground.
This crisis clearly demonstrates that inaction is not an option.
I urge my colleagues to support the supplemental funding needed for our country to meet this humanitarian crisis.
We have a responsibility to ensure that those in our custody are treated according to our values as a nation—and the President’s request will allow our government to keep these commitments.
I’d also urge my colleagues to reject the idea that the solution here is to speed up deportations of these children, back to the dangerous conditions they fled.
Stripping away basic legal protections for children in this terrible situation will not solve this problem.
To really address this situation we need to do more to work with our partners in the region to reduce violence and improve opportunities in their home countries.
We must provide resources so that we can safely, fairly, and timely process these children, including asylum determination, as provided by the law.
We should all look to our conscience in seeking a path forward.
Surely, we can do better than sending these children back to conditions that we can help change.
Out of sight is not out of mind.
I strongly urge my colleagues to support the President’s supplemental request.
And I urge my colleagues to work toward resolving the underlying causes of this crisis.