Cummings rips DHS for blocking Oversight staff from visiting detention facilities

Cummings rips DHS for blocking Oversight staff from visiting detention facilities
© Aaron Schwartz

Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaryland postpones primary over coronavirus fears Maryland governor: 'Simply not enough supplies' on hand to tackle coronavirus Meadows joins White House facing reelection challenges MORE (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Thursday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is blocking the panel’s staff from future visits to detention facilities.

Cummings wrote in a letter to DHS acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan that the agency informed his panel after staffers visited numerous facilities last week that they would be denied access to 11 different centers run by Customs and Border Protection in the future and that new restrictions would be placed on staffers’ access to facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for-profit contractors.

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The Maryland Democrat wrote that the department’s decision went against McAleenan’s testimony last month in which he invited congressional visits. Cummings added that visits are necessary after past inspections “revealed potentially serious ongoing problems with the treatment of children and adults in DHS custody.”

Cummings said the panel must be allowed to visit after migrants during past trips expressed concerns about rotten food and inadequate access to medical care, among other things. He also cited several instances in which he says officers at the facilities prevented staff from meeting with detainees, including one instance in which an ICE official threatened to end a tour and cancel future visits after a detainee said through a glass partition that he had been abused. 

Cummings added that the DHS decision came down on Monday as staffers were already en route to visit the facilities and that the committee had given DHS several days’ notice of additional site visits. 

The remarks come after Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump, privacy hawks upend surveillance brawl Top GOP post on Oversight draws stiff competition McConnell, top GOP senators throw support behind surveillance deal as deadline looms MORE (R-Ohio), the Oversight panel’s ranking member, sent a letter obtained by Fox News to Cummings accusing staffers of being “rude” to officers. Sources also told the media outlet that the committee’s employees “interfered" with law enforcement operations, allegations Cummings dismissed. 

“Contrary to claims by the Committee’s Ranking Member, Committee staff were not ‘rude’ and never once refused to abide by instructions from agency officials. Committee staff comported themselves professionally at all times while defending the authority of Congress to conduct an independent investigation of these well-documented abuses,” Cummings wrote.

The migrant detention facilities have emerged as a chief source of Democratic outrage on Capitol Hill, with many accusing the administration of locking up migrants in “inhumane” conditions as part of the White House’s hard-line stance on immigration.

Cummings insisted that Congress has a duty to conduct oversight over federal programs and that his panel could not take the administration’s word that the facilities are running smoothly.

“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,” he wrote. 

“That is not the way effective oversight works. 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.”