House Dems say DHS blocked follow-up visits to immigration facilities

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McAllen, Texas migrant facility interior.

House Oversight Democrats say they were blocked this week by the Department of Homeland Security from visiting 11 immigration facilities after inspections by the committee previously “revealed potentially serious ongoing problems” of how migrants are treated.

“Detainees at Border Patrol facilities expressed concern that toddlers — and in one case even an infant — were being fed burritos rather than age-appropriate food, young children were held in cold rooms without appropriate clothing, and parents were not given a significant number of diapers for their children,” Democratic House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter to DHS Thursday, complaining about the move to block follow-up visits.

Cummings adds: “One detainee alleged that a Border Patrol agent told a child who had spilled soup that the child would not receive more food unless the child drank the soup off the floor. Detainees at Border Patrol facilities also told committee staff that they were pressured into signing documents in English without translation and denied access to telephones.”

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cummings argues that DHS’s actions are “inconsistent” with the agency’s pledge during a committee hearing this summer that they welcomed congressional inspections and dialogue about improving existing standards.

“The Department’s last-minute denial of access to (Customs and Border Protection) facilities and unwarranted restrictions at (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) facilities are unacceptable and impair the committee’s ability to conduct its oversight responsibilities in an effective manner,” Cummings writes, adding, “The committee requests that the Department provide meaningful access to all CBP and ICE facilities identified by committee staff.”

Cummings states in his letter that DHS told the committee that it would bar access to 11 Customs and Border Protection facilities “in which immigrants are being held.” Additionally, the chairman writes that the department “imposed new restrictions on committee staff’s access to detention centers run by ICE and for-profit contractors.” The department did this “without warning” even as committee staff were “en route to these sites,” according to the letter.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.