WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, on Saturday joined NPR Weekend Edition to discuss his recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess resource needs and ongoing humanitarian and security challenges at the southern border.

“[T]he rise in children coming to the border has happened so quickly that it has been difficult to move them out of these detention facilities in under three days. Right now as we speak, [the Biden administration is] building new capacity to be able to house these children and filling new slots in the HHS system. So they are also trying to rebuild a program that the Trump administration ended in Central America to allow for kids to apply for asylum there,” Murphy said.

Murphy continued: “You know what Donald Trump did was essentially tear down the entire asylum system. And so when you had this massive increase in children coming to the border, first at the end of last year, continuing with the Biden administration, it was very difficult to be able to move these kids out of detention in that 72 hour period. So the Biden administration has been working very fast to try to rebuild the asylum systems, trying to let these kids once again apply to stay in this country if their lives are truly in danger back home in Guatemala or Honduras, but they inherited an absolute mess, a wreck from the Trump administration. They're trying to do better as quickly as they can. So they're going to be opening up new facilities for these kids throughout the Southwest border in the coming weeks. Hopefully you'll be able to see these times go back down below 72 hours very quickly. They're doing their best.”

On the conditions Murphy saw at the border, he said: “…[T]his is better than what we saw in 2019. These are not kids in so-called cages. They are not being separated from their family at the border. But these are facilities you wouldn't want your child in for more than 10 minutes. They are big, open rooms. The kids are, you're sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor. They are sort of bunched, you know, about six inches to a foot from each other. We've got to ultimately do better. These are conditions that can just build on the trauma that these kids have already experienced in their own countries and on the long transit to the United States. The Biden administration’s trying as quickly as they can to process these kids in a humane way.”

On Friday, Murphy traveled to El Paso, Texas with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas to tour several border facilities in El Paso to help inform efforts in Congress to address these ongoing concerns. The group toured the Paso del Norte International Crossing, the newly constructed Centralized Processing Center, the CHS Trail House Shelter, and the VA Medical Center where they thanked health care workers for their work in helping vaccinate DHS employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read the Senators’ readout of the trip here and the Secretary’s readout of the trip here.

A full transcript of Murphy’s interview with host Scott Simon can be found below:

SIMON: “Senator, thanks so much for being with us.”

MURPHY: “Thanks for having me.”

SIMON: “You were with the Homeland Security Secretary yesterday, El Paso on a bipartisan delegation of senators. No press, no cameras. DHS says that was for privacy. But does this just serve the skepticism that the government has something to hide?”

MURPHY: “I think there's a way for DHS to allow some additional press access into these facilities. At the same time, you know, these are kids, six years old, 12 years old, who are at the incredibly vulnerable points in their life, and so I certainly understand that there's a reason why you want to be careful about giving press access to them. At the same time, we’ve got to do better–“

SIMON: “It would be possible just to let reporters just walk around, not take any pictures right?”

MURPHY: “Yeah, no, and listen, something that we should all press the administration to do better on. We want to make sure that the press has access to hold the administration accountable. That's the reason I was there—to hold them accountable, and they've seen a surge that began last year, that began under the Trump administration, but it's real, it’s pressing their resources. And right now these kids are staying too long in detention centers. We're going to work on getting them additional resources so that we can process these kids and get them into HHS care rather than DHS care as quickly as possible. It's a real challenge right now along the border. We’ve got to do better.”

SIMON: “Well, according to NPR reports, hundreds of children and teens have been held in detention centers for 10 days and longer and of course, by law, supposed to be just 72 hours. You're in charge of the Appropriations Committee that oversees Homeland Security. Is there any kind of motivation you can give them, if I might put it that way?”

MURPHY: “Well, the rise in children coming to the border has happened so quickly that it has been difficult to move them out of these detention facilities in under three days. Right now as we speak, [the Biden administration is] building new capacity to be able to house these children and filling new slots in the HHS system. So they are also trying to rebuild a program that the Trump administration ended in Central America to allow for kids to apply for asylum there.

“You know what Donald Trump did was essentially tear down the entire asylum system. And so when you had this massive increase in children coming to the border, first at the end of last year, continuing with the Biden administration, it was very difficult to be able to move these kids out of detention in that 72 hour period. So the Biden administration has been working very fast to try to rebuild the asylum systems, trying to let these kids once again apply to stay in this country if their lives are truly in danger back home in Guatemala or Honduras, but they inherited an absolute mess, a wreck from the Trump administration. They're trying to do better as quickly as they can. So they're going to be opening up new facilities for these kids throughout the southwest border in the coming weeks. Hopefully you'll be able to see these times go back down below 72 hours very quickly. They're doing their best.”

SIMON: “Well, and what did conditions look like for you in the minute we have left?”

MURPHY: “Well, this is better than what we saw in 2019. These are not kids in so-called cages. They are not being separated from their family at the border. But these are facilities you wouldn't want your child in for more than 10 minutes. They are big, open rooms. The kids are, you're sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor. They are sort of bunched, you know, about six inches to a foot from each other. We've got to ultimately do better. These are conditions that can just build on the trauma that these kids have already experienced in their own countries and on the long transit to the United States. The Biden administration’s trying as quickly as they can to process these kids in a humane way.”

###