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As Family Separations Linger, DeGette & Coffman Visit Southern Border

DENVER (CBS4) - Thousands of children taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are in detention centers, days after President Donald Trump reversed his "zero-tolerance" policy.

Mike Coffman Border Patrol
(credit: Mike Coffman/Twitter)

On Saturday, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman traveled to the Texas border and toured some of the facilities. He spoke with children being held there.

Coffman says we must find a solution to reunite the families.

"The images that caused me to go down there and make a special trip, I mean to see children torn from their parents. I think that's just fundamentally wrong," he said.

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Diana DeGette speaks in Texas. (credit: CBS)

"How long will it take to reunite those children? I think it was a mistake to separate families in the first place," Coffman told CBS4's Melissa Garcia.

Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette paid a visit to the ICE detention center in Aurora on Sunday.

"We need to make sure that never ever again in our history of this country, do we split up families," she said.

Fifty parents who have yet to be reunited with their children there.

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Diana DeGette leaves ICE detention center in Aurora. (credit: CBS)

DeGette talked about all the centers she's seen in the last few days in southern Texas. She says she spoke with more than 40 mothers whose children had been separated from them. Many of them were seeking asylum.

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(credit: CBS)

"They're exhausted. They're scared. And I had one woman in a holding cell look at me and she held up two fingers and then she pointed next door, and her two daughters were being held separately from her," DeGette said.

Both DeGette and Coffman, a Democrat and a Republican, say the immigration system is broken. They have different ideas for reform to fix what both call a broken immigration system.

"When you see little children being held in what is a chain link cell with mylar blankets and the looks of terror on their faces, you really think, is this the best that America can do for these children?" DeGette said.

Coffman wants to streamline reunification by making one person responsible for what is now a complicated process involving many agencies.

"I think we need one person in charge, right now, to move this process along as fast as we possibly can to reunite this children with their parents," Coffman said.

DeGette wants to ease the refugee influx by offering aid to Central American countries plagued with drug cartels and gang violence.

"People who are coming in who are fleeing from oppressive governments and gang violence… we need to treat them with human dignity," DeGette said.

As for the parents in detention at Aurora's ICE facility, officials said a plan is in place. An ICE spokesperson said Sunday that the U.S. government knows the location of all children in its custody and is working to reunite them with their families.

DeGette's office released this statement Sunday afternoon:

U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement has overstepped its authority and must be reined in, Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) said today 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, 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), today 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 Saturday, with a delegation of more than two dozen House members, DeGette traversed the path of people coming into Texas through the U.S.-Mexico border, observed a processing center where people arrested for crossing undocumented were assigned to detention centers, and visited a "tender care" facility for very young children arriving undocumented in this country,  one of them only nine months old.

On Sunday, 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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