D.C. Council Member On Why He Opposes Proposed Facility For Migrant Families
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The debate over immigration policy is taking place all over the country and far from the southern border. Here in Washington, D.C., the Trump administration wants to build a 200-bed shelter for unaccompanied migrant children aged 12 to 17. But local authorities are pushing back hard. D.C.'s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said in a statement that the city has no intention of accepting such a facility and said, quote, "Washington, D.C., will not be complicit in the inhumane practice of detaining migrant children in warehouses" - unquote.
Now, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services which would oversee the contract defended their work saying, quote, "we treat the children in our care with dignity and respect and deliver services to them in a compassionate and organized manner." We wanted to have additional perspective on this, so we've called up D.C. Council member Brandon Todd. The proposed facility would be in his ward.
Council member, thank you so much for joining us.
BRANDON TODD: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So you agree with the mayor on this. You know, her objection is that the policy itself is inhumane, and she just is not going to offer any support for a policy that in general she thinks is inhumane. Other people say that these sort of congregate facilities themselves are just not appropriate for kids. Where are you on this?
TODD: No, absolutely. I would say I'm probably between both. You know, I don't support President Trump's policies that we should take children from their families, separate families and have kids all over the country in different places. I also don't think that this is a way - any way to treat human beings in 2019 in the nation's capital - or for any place in the country, for that matter. That's why I do not support the 200 beds being at the facility in Takoma, D.C. I've sent correspondence to the company that was hired by the federal government that received the grant, asking them not to move forward. Likewise, I've sent a letter to the building owner who owns the facility.
MARTIN: So there are - as you know, Washington, D.C., has a very kind of vocal population, and people express themselves in sort of all kinds of ways. There are, like, neighborhood newsletters...
MARTIN: ...For example, where people can debate things. I saw this one entry about this that caught my attention. A lot of people agreed with you and the mayor saying that this should not happen and that the D.C. government should do whatever it can to prevent this from happening.
But others said - there was this one entry on the neighborhood listserv that caught my attention. It said that housing children who entered the country without parents has been going on for years. But the person writing this said that the mayor should demand high standards. So in essence, what this writer seems to be saying is, you know, why not let the shelter be here because at least in this area, people could provide oversight? They could provide the kind of care that these kids need. What do you say to that?
TODD: Sure. I think that we have to push back on Trump's policies, and this is one of the president's policies. What we know is we do have to care for these young people - period, point blank. They have to be cared for, and they have to be cared for safely and be cared for in a good manner. But I don't believe that this is the way to do it. No one reached out to me, to my staff, for that matter. I found out because I got a call from a reporter that this was even occurring. And so therein lies the problem, number one. The organization that received the grant dollars to do this work - the first thing they should have done is reached out to the local elected officials.
MARTIN: Bottom line, what should they do? Children need to be housed somewhere until permanent decisions can be made about them. What, in your opinion, should happen?
TODD: The federal government has to do a better job at communicating with their local partners about what the needs are and how we can be better partners. Because when you hear a proposal like this, people get very concerned. They get concerned of the quality of care that kids are receiving. Neighbors are very concerned. Advisory groups are concerned. Literally, I'm on probably 30 neighborhood listservs, and at least 10 or 15 of them are talking about this issue.
MARTIN: And to those who say, you know what? The residents of the District of Columbia and the surrounding jurisdictions would care for these kids, would at least make sure that they had lawyers and whatever they need in a way that perhaps they might not elsewhere. You say to that what?
TODD: No, absolutely. And I think in D.C. and the District of Columbia, we've shown that we can be caring for the least among us. You know, we closed one of our largest shelters in the city, and we're opening eight shelters across the District of Columbia to house people more appropriately, to get them the wrap-around services. And that's what we need the federal government to do.
MARTIN: That was Washington, D.C., Council member Brandon Todd. The Trump administration wants to build a 200-bed shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in his district, as it's said here.
Council member, thank you so much for joining us now.
TODD: No, thank you so much for having me.
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