'Unacceptable' to detain women and children at border, say Senate Dems

Senate Democratic leaders are challenging President Obama's immigration policies, telling him it is “unacceptable” to detain women and children seeking asylum.

Ten senators signed a letter saying they are concerned about the physical safety and due process rights of the women and children that would be detained at a new detention facility. There have been reports of substandard conditions and sexual assault at other centers.

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“Mothers and their children who have fled violence in their home countries should not be treated like criminals,” the senators wrote in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “They have come seeking refuge from three of the most dangerous countries in the world, countries where women and girls face shocking rates of domestic and sexual violence and murder.”

The lawmakers said because the women and children are fleeing abuses back home, they are unlikely to flee custody. Previously, the administration had not detained women and children, but instead released them to sponsors until their asylum hearings.

Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senate heads toward internet surveillance fight MORE (Vt.), Harry ReidHarry ReidSay NO to PROMESA, say NO to Washington overreach Overnight Finance: Wall Street awaits Brexit result | Clinton touts biz support | New threat to Puerto Rico bill? | Dodd, Frank hit back McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns MORE (Nev.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems link court fight to Congressional Baseball Game Reid: House-passed Zika deal a 'disgrace' Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate MORE (Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) and Mark Udall (Colo.) signed the letter Thursday.

The senators questioned Johnson's decision to build the nation's largest immigration detention facility in Dilley, Texas. DHS announced the construction of the new 2,400-bed facility as part of its efforts to address this year’s influx of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“We have heard significant concerns regarding the conditions of confinement and obstacles to due process for detainees,” the senators wrote. “We are troubled by your apparent decision to make permanent and greatly expand the policy of family detention against the backdrop of these problems.”

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