U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette traveled to the nation’s border with Mexico amid pushback to a policy by President Donald Trump’s administration that resulted in families being separated at the border. …
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U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette traveled to the nation’s border with Mexico amid pushback to a policy by President Donald Trump’s administration that resulted in families being separated at the border.
In recent weeks, separations occurred under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy, under which children have been held in separate facilities while parents awaited prosecution for having entered the country illegally.
The change began in April, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible.
But the Trump administration reversed course with a June 20 executive order that aims to detain and hold migrant families together, instead of separating children from their families during the process.
DeGette, D-Denver, visited on June 23 a “tender-age” facility — for those younger than 13 — where children separated from their parents are held, according to a news release. She also took part in a group of more than two dozen House members who visited a border-patrol station, a processing center for arrested migrants and a detention center, all in or near McAllen, Texas.
The same day, DeGette crossed the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, and spoke with people hoping to enter the country, the release said. The tender-age facility she visited, Casa Presidente, also sits in Brownsville.
DeGette represents Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Denver and Englewood, among other parts of the metro area.
She answered some questions about the experience June 28.
What were you most surprised at seeing at the facilities you visited?
The first thing that struck me on entering the immigrant-processing center in McAllen, Texas, was the desperation: Hundreds of people, scooped up by U.S. Border Patrol agents after arduous treks from Central American countries, most of them fleeing gang violence and drug cartels. The most disturbing thing I saw was a group of 45 refugee women at the detention center in Port Isabel, Texas, who had been separated from their children under the “zero-tolerance” policy. We spoke at length — many didn’t know where their kids were, and even the ones who did could only talk to them once a week. Two were breastfeeding and had their babies taken.
What is the process for reunifying the children who have been separated from parents?
There isn’t a clearly defined process in place to achieve this, which is a major cause of the suffering taking place. There has not been enough coordination among federal agencies to ensure a smooth return of these children to their parents’ arms.
The court order issued June 26 requiring reunification of all separated families means we need a better system in place immediately. To achieve this, I’m calling for the creation of an “Immigration Czar” position in the administration to oversee a seamless, efficient and fast reunification effort from beginning to end.
Have children or parents who have been separated been taken to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Aurora, or anywhere else in Colorado?
During my visit to this facility, I was told that there are around 50 detainees there who have been separated from their families under the “zero-tolerance” campaign. I’m against their transfer to the Aurora facility or any other detention center as a result of this cruel campaign.
How is this affecting negotiations on immigration-related bills in Congress?
There has been broad condemnation of “zero tolerance” and a demand to change our laws, but Republican leaders continue to drag their feet on putting important immigration bills up for a vote. The president is absolutely using these kids as a bargaining chip, making it even more difficult to achieve these reforms.
What is the most important next step for you and for Congress regarding the zero-tolerance policy?
I’m putting pressure on Congress to immediately pass the Keep Families Together Act, legislation I’ve sponsored that would reunite these families and prevent further separations. The president’s executive order is a meager excuse for a solution to the crisis we are facing. I’m also continuing to call for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw this cruel campaign and lied about its existence. She has harmed these families, broken the public trust and is unfit to serve our country in this or any capacity.
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