U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has overstepped its authority and must be reined in, Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) said on June 24th, after meeting with people who sought refuge in the United States only to be arrested and jailed at the ICE Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora,CO, including one whose family was separated upon arrest and was still awaiting word on reunification. This visit came on the heels of a congressional delegation to the Southwestern U.S. border in which DeGette took part.
“ICE is a rogue agency, and it shows in the way it has gone about methodically snatching more than 2000 kids from their parents as they sought refuge in the United States, sending them far and wide to facilities across the country with little accountability and no heart,” DeGette said. “There has been clearly not been enough streamlined, efficient coordination among federal agencies to ensure a smooth return of these children, from toddlers to teenagers, to their parents’ arms. As a result, many are facing prolonged pain on top of the trauma caused by the needless breakup of their families. ICE must be reined in.”
Rep. DeGette, who is Chief Deputy Whip and a senior member of the committee overseeing the government bureau responsible for these children, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), on June 24th, proposed several changes to federal structures and procedures in the treatment of asylum-seekers.
“As a nation, we need to have a hard examination of the way we treat people who are fleeing repressive governments and gang violence,” she said. “We need to treat them with human dignity, process them swiftly and accurately, and handle them humanely. If they need to be deported back to their home countries, we need to do it in a just way. And we need to ensure that never, ever again in this country do we split up families.”
On June 23rd, with a delegation of more than two dozen House members, DeGette traversed the path of people coming into Texas through the U.S.-México border, observed a processing center where people arrested for crossing undocumented were assigned to detention centers, and visited a “tender age” facility for very young children arriving undocumented in this country, one of them only nine months old.
“We need to ensure that never, ever again in this country do we split up families.”
Congresswoman Diana DeGette
As most of those House colleagues dispersed at the program’s end, DeGette went on to cross the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville – where she spoke with people who had been waiting for hours and even days to enter this country – and to spend time with youngsters detained at the Casa Presidente tender care center.
“There’s no substitute for being on the ground,” DeGette said from the airport as she awaited her flight back home to Colorado. “The most shocking thing I saw all day was a group of 45 refugee women at the Port Isabel ICE detention center who had been separated from their children. Many did not 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.”
On June 24th, after speaking with detainees in Aurora, she called for an influx of immigration lawyers to help advise people at all such facilities on their legal rights, and for urgent assistance to the home countries of those seeking asylum due to unsafe conditions there. She also spoke at a demonstration at the Colorado State Capitol, where she encouraged her constituents to keep up the fight to end the heinous practice of family separation and ensure that it never takes place again.
DeGette is a sponsor of the Keep Families Together Act (H.R. 6135), which would achieve these aims. She has called for hearings in the Energy and Commerce Committee to demand accountability at ORR and conferred with the committee’s Republican chairman about the prospects of that, and is urging colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to return to working on a comprehensive solution to our country’s broken immigration system.
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