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Where Colorado's Congressional Delegation Stands on the Separation of Migrant Families

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
This article originally was published on June 18, 2018, at the Colorado Freedom Report, and ported here on May 26, 2024.

Five of nine members of Colorado's Congressional delegation (counting Senators) have condemned the U.S. policy of separating migrant families at the border. These are Senator Michael Bennet and Representatives Mike Coffman, Ed Perlmutter, Jared Polis, and Diana DeGette.

I have not heard back from the other four members, all Republicans, Senator Cory Gardner and Representatives Scott Tipton, Ken Buck, and Doug Lamborn. (If they have made relevant comments elsewhere I am unaware of them.) [See updates below.]

My view—the view of every moral and sensible person—is that forcibly taking children from peaceable parents is a moral atrocity. What the United States government currently is doing—essentially kidnapping children under color of law—is comparable in moral offense (if not in scale of harm) to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWI. And the extent to which some "family values" conservatives have gone to rationalize this evil is astounding and sickening.

I contacted members of the Congressional delegation last month regarding the matter, and I followed up today with those I had not heard from. Although Perlmutter did not respond to me directly, he posted a comment independently condemning the policy of separating children from their parents. Today Lamborn's staff told me that Lamborn would come out with a statement within a couple of days, after he had a chance to examine potential legislation addressing the matter. I will update this article with additional comments if I receive them.

The only Republican I have heard from at this point is Mike Coffman. He issued a powerful statement on May 30:

Separating children from their parents as part of immigration enforcement action is neither good public policy nor is it a moral policy. These latest stories absolutely shock the conscience. Can you imagine the horror of these parents and these children? I still believe America is a shining city on the hill, and we can live up to that aspiration by getting to the bottom of this immediately, as in yesterday, and getting these kids back with their parents. President Trump should dispatch a trusted advisor or respected general to fix this disaster immediately. Yet another reason why we need immigration reform now.

Ed Perlmutter issued the following statement on Facebook on May 29, referring to commentary by Chris Hayes:

This new policy from the Trump administration is horrific and disgraceful. In many cases these families are coming to the border seeking asylum which is not illegal, they are simply trying to escape violence in their home country and keep their children safe. These immigration policies do not represent our values as a nation and should be stopped immediately.

Michael Bennet's staff issued the following statement on May 30:

Senator Michael Bennet has condemned the administration's 'zero tolerance' policy on separating children from their parents at the border. When the policy was proposed, Senator Bennet called on the Department of Homeland Security to reject the measure. Senator Bennet has called on the administration to take action to fully enforce existing legal protections for unaccompanied minors and ensure they are able to reunite safely with their family members.

Jared Polis has issued numerous comments on the matter on his official Facebook page, including the following from June 13 (referencing a McClatchy news story):

This has got to stop. Children shouldn't be subject to inhuman and traumatizing conditions. They belong with their parents. That's why I'm sponsoring a resolution to condemn the separation of children from their parents at the border.

Diana DeGette issued the following release on February 8:

Today Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), Chief Deputy Whip, joined 74 Democratic House members in sending a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen expressing profound concern with the Department of Homeland Security's practice of separating immigrant families, both in the United States and at the border. Numerous studies and stories have shown this practice traumatizes those seeking humanitarian relief and limits their ability to lawfully pursue legal relief.

The effort was led by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Pramila Jayapal, Co-Chairs of the Women's Working Group on Immigration Reform, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. The letter urges U.S. Immigrations and Customs enforcement (ICE) at DHS to immediately clarify current policies and to reverse any established or de facto policies that undermine the ability of those seeking humanitarian relief to pursue protection or result in the needless separation of and harm to families.

"Separating children from their parents is unconscionable and contradicts the most basic of American family values. Moreover, the reported justification of this practice as a deterrent to family migration suggests a lack of understanding about the violence many families are fleeing in their home countries. More pointedly, the pretext of deterrence is not a legally sufficient basis for separating families," DeGette and the members wrote.

"We are deeply disturbed by reports that the practice of separating families is increasing. Two recent complaints filed with DHS oversight components, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of Inspector General, illustrate that DHS appears to be intentionally separating families for purposes of deterrence and punishment."

"We believe that separation is especially unnecessary given that ICE can and should turn to humane, less costly alternatives to detention, such as the Family Case Management Program, which ICE prematurely terminated after only one year of a five year pilot. Rather than protecting the best interests of the child, practices that punish and deter immigrant families violate fundamental domestic and international principles of family unity and are inconsistent with numerous U.S. child welfare and refugee laws and obligations."

Both DeGette and Polis also signed a February 8 and a March 19 letter on the matter. DeGette posted a related comment on Facebook on May 29.

I applaud the majority of Colorado's Congressional delegation for condemning the senseless and immoral separation of migrant families. I urge them to follow up with effective action on the matter. And I encourage the Republicans who have not yet addressed the matter to do the right thing and help to put an end to this despicable policy. We are better than this.

June 18 Update: Mike Coffman issue the following statement on June 18: "This afternoon, I reached out to Sen. Feinstein's office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border. If that means introducing her bill in the House, I'd be honored to stand with her. If there is a better bill sponsor to get this done, or if there is a better approach from Senator Sasse, I'm open to all reasonable options. Tearing children from the arms of parents and then isolating them alone is antithetical to the America I grew up in, and to the America that I have many times fought to defend. This isn't who we are. My colleagues should mark their words and this moment—history won't remember well those who support the continuation of this policy."

June 19 Update: Although I have not heard back directly from Ken Buck, he did remark on the matter on June 6 (as reported by Jason Salzman): "I think that it is terribly unfortunate when kids are separated from their families. But the reality is there has to be a responsibility taken by parents who bring kids to this country illegally or who don't go through the proper asylum procedure when coming into this country. Putting kids in a detention facility with adults is a dangerous situation that's not done in this country in our criminal system. And where these families are going are to detention centers. And so there is a public safety issue for these kids that has to be taken into account also. It doesn't change the fact that it's a terribly unfortunate situation. But I think that the Trump administration—and previous administrations—have had a tough time dealing with how to deal with—or how to address—families that are that are coming into this country legally." My reply: Not good enough, Congressman, not by a long shot.

July 19 Update: Jared Polis sent out the following message via email today:

My phones have been ringing off the hook. My email inbox is chock full. So many of you have contacted me recently to share your disgust about the Trump administration's policy to rip children from their parents at the border. Thank you for doing so. I want you to know I hear you, and I wholeheartedly agree and have taken action.

To be clear, nowhere in law does it require children to be torn from their parents at the border, and the President is simply lying when he says otherwise. President Trump is willfully choosing to separate children from their families, whether out of ignorance, a sick political game, or as a way to deter migration. This policy goes against our American values and founding principles, and only serves to cause long-lasting trauma to many young lives. It must stop immediately.

I want you to know that I am actively combating the forced separation of young children from their parents:

• I am an original co-sponsor of the Keeping Families Together Act to override the Trump administration by explicitly prohibiting the separation of children and parents at the border.
• I have demanded answers from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection about the safety of the children and timeline for reunification with their parents.
• I am the sponsor of a resolution condemning the separation of children and parents at the border.
• In May, I sent a letter to the Subcommittee on Homeland Security condemning the separation of children and parents at the border.

I can't stop thinking about the families who are fleeing persecution, and are met with the horror of having their kids torn from their arms. I worry for the children who are left wondering when or if they'll see their mom and dad again. This is not who we are as a nation, and we cannot let this be who we become. We are a compassionate nation who believes that families belong together.

While I feel heartbroken, I am committed to continuing this fight until we regain our reputation as the shining beacon on a hill where asylum-seekers can go for a better life.

June 19 Update: Senator Cory Gardner released the following comment and letter today:

Gardner Urges AG Sessions to Halt Border Policy Leading to Children Being Separated from Families — Calls on Congress to Address Issue

WASHINGTON, DC — Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) joined 11 of his colleagues on Tuesday in sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on the Administration to halt current policies leading to the forced separation of minor children from their parents, who are illegally entering the United States, and to allow Congress to fix the issue through legislation.

Senator Gardner has been a leader in the Senate on working to find a solution for Dreamers along with supporting several immigration reform proposals to address the broken immigration system. On Monday Senator Gardner pointed to our broken immigration system and the instances on the border where children are being separated from their parents as why it is urgent that Congress pass immigration reform. Gardner said that, "children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents and that is exactly what is happening right now."

A PDF is available here.

Signers of the letter include: Senators Orin Hatch (R-UT), John McCain (R-AZ), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), Dean Heller (R-NV), James Lankford (R-OK), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

The letter reads in full

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

Like millions of Americans, we have read with increasing alarm reports of children being separated from their parents at the southern border. Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsibility of the federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency.

The current family separation crisis has multiple contributing causes, including court decisions that require release rather than detention of children but not parents who enter our country illegally. But the immediate cause of the crisis is your Department's recent institution of a "zero tolerance" policy under which all adults who enter the United States illegally are referred for prosecution, regardless of whether such individuals are claiming asylum and regardless of whether they are accompanied by minor children.

We support the administration's efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical forced separation of minor children from their parents. We therefore ask you to work with the relevant Administration officials to stop the separation of families pursuant to theDepartment's zero tolerance policy while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally. We believe a reasonable path forward can be found that accommodates the need to enforce our laws while holding true to other, equally essential values.

June 21 Update: As Colorado Politics reports, Scott Tipton made the following remarks June 20 via Twitter:

I believe in border security & support a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, but I do not support separating children from their parents at the border. The Administration should take action to allow families to remain together while the parents' cases are decided. I recently signed onto a letter w/some of my colleagues to be sent to DHS, that expresses disapproval of the current policy of separating families & requests additional information on what is being done when a family arrives at the border in-between a legal port of entry.

June 21 Update: See also the follow-up article, "Joe Salazar and Mike Coffman Spar over Migrant Family Separations."

June 22 Update: Today Mike Coffman distributed the following release:

Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) announced that he will be participating in a fact-finding mission trip to a Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) Facility in Tornillo, Texas to assess the current situation as it relates to the separation and detention of minors, and potential impacts of the President's most recent Executive Order.

"Tearing children away from parents is not only immoral, its unacceptable and should never have occurred. This Saturday, I will be in Texas to personally these children are being properly cared for and that there is a process in place to ensure the prompt reunification of parents with their children," said Coffman.

Since May of this year, children and their parents have been forcibly separated under the U.S. Attorney General's 'zero tolerance' policy and held in separate facilities while parents awaited prosecution for having entered the U.S. illegally. Coffman is deeply alarmed that the Attorney General implemented the policy well-knowing that it meant separating children from their parents for an indefinite period of time. The President initially said he did not have the authority to unilaterally change this policy without legislation, but subsequently issued an executive order stopping the practice of family separation.

"I want to make sure that they have a sound plan for reuniting these families in an organized and expeditious manner. Some of these children have been moved to locations far away from their parents. I want to make sure that DHS personnel can show me how we can end this humanitarian nightmare quickly, and ensure it never happens again." said Coffman.

June 22 Update: Jason Salzman points out that, prior to Trump's reversal on migrant family separation, Mike Coffman claimed that Trump could not act unilaterally, without Congress.

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