Originally published by The Hill
A group of 150 Democratic lawmakers have called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a policy that allegedly forces parents to pay "exorbitant" fees to speak to their separated children over the phone, according to BuzzFeed News.
The group of Democrats argue that ICE policy allows the imposition of steep prices to place phone calls in immigration detention facilities, BuzzFeed reported, citing a letter lawmakers sent to the agency.
The Democratic lawmakers called the policy "shameless" and "morally reprehensible" in the letter, and argue it violates ICE's national immigration standards, according to the news report.
"We write to urge you to implement immediate, nationwide changes that will permit individuals who have been separated from their children to make phone calls regularly and at no expense to them," the lawmakers write.
BuzzFeed also reported that ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration agency, have denied reports that parents have to pay to call their children while they are in the government's care.
When contacted by The Hill, the agency responded by saying "ICE is committed to connecting family members as quickly as possible after separation so that parents know the location of their children and have regular communication with them."
"Calls between detained parents in ICE custody and their children are facilitated at no charge to detainees," it added.
Under ICE's telephone access standards, detained immigrants are able to call specific lawyers and government help lines for free, BuzzFeed reported.
Those standards say detention facilities must enable direct or free calls to "immediate family or others for detainees in personal and family emergencies." It also says that they should have "equitable access to reasonably priced telephone services."
BuzzFeed cited reporting by The Texas Tribune and NPR showing detainees paid from 25 cents to $8 a minute to talk to their children.
The lawmakers argue that parents trying to speak with their children after being separated should qualify as an emergency.
“These mothers, fathers, babies and young children came here with nothing to their names, seeking refuge. We shouldn’t allow them to be exploited by private corporations in order to simply locate and speak with their children by phone," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who helped write the letter, told BuzzFeed.
“We shouldn’t be kicking migrant parents while they’re down, we should be helping them to reunite with their kids now."
The letter comes as the Trump administration continues to face major scrutiny over how it intends to reunify the thousands of families that were separated at the border because of President Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
A judge ordered the Trump administration to complete the reunifications of immigrant children between the ages of 5 and 17 with their parents by July 26. The administration had until July 10 to reunite immigrant children under the age of 5 with their families.
In a court filing last Thursday, Trump officials said that the administration has reunited 364 immigrant children between the ages of 5 and 17 that it identified as being separated from their parents at the border.