Coffman addresses family separations after border visit

Congressman 'alarmed at alphabet soup' of agencies involved

Posted 7/2/18

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman visited a facility near the U.S.-Mexico border that holds migrant minors on the heels of pushback to policy by President Donald Trump’s administration that resulted in …

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Coffman addresses family separations after border visit

Congressman 'alarmed at alphabet soup' of agencies involved

Posted

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman visited a facility near the U.S.-Mexico border that holds migrant minors on the heels of pushback to policy by President Donald Trump’s administration that resulted in children and 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 President Donald Trump’s 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.

Coffman, R-Aurora, recently visited an unaccompanied-minor children (UAC) facility in Tornillo, Texas, with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, according to a news release. He was also briefed by local leadership from both the U.S. Border Patrol and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field Operations regarding CBP’s operations.

Coffman represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Aurora, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Littleton and parts of Adams County, among other areas.

A few days after his trip, he answered some questions about the experience on June 27:

What were you most surprised at seeing at the facility you visited?

I was alarmed that there is an alphabet soup of federal agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Human Services in charge of various phases of the process from detaining, separating and caring for these children. I’m deeply concerned that it will be difficult for this fragmented bureaucracy to effectively reunite these families in a timely manner. That’s why I’m advocating for a single individual, preferably a Marine Corps general, to take charge of pushing these agencies to work together to get these children back with their parents.

What is the process for reunifying the children who have been separated from parents?

A federal judge in California has just issued an order that families be reunited within 30 days and that children under 5 be back with their parents within 14 days. When I was in El Paso, Texas, the Department of Human Services, which is responsible for caring for the separated children, assured me that they know where all of the children and their respective parents are currently located.

However, I’m still not confident that they have a process in place to reunite these families on a timely basis since they have moved the youngest children, who require child-care providers, all over the U.S.

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?

The Department of Homeland Security has informed my office that there are no separated children held in the DHS/ICE facilities in Colorado. I’m scheduled to visit the ICE detention facility in Aurora (in early July).

How is this affecting negotiations on immigration-related bills in Congress?

I believe that the president’s advisers determined that by uniformly prosecuting everyone who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, a deterrent effect would be created to reduce the level of illegal border crossings. However, they miscalculated because of an earlier court decision that does not allow children to remain with their parents for more than 20 days when they are held in detention for purposes of being prosecuted for illegally crossing the border … This created a humanitarian disaster by forcibly separating the children from their parents, that should have been anticipated. I have since called for the firing of Stephen Miller, the president’s key adviser on immigration issues.

What is the most important next step for you and for Congress regarding the zero-tolerance policy?

I will soon vote for legislation that will provide a way for the families to remain together while held in a detention setting.

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