United States

Vermont Lawmaker Visiting Southern Border to Investigate Family Separations

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont is part of a delegation traveling to Texas this weekend

Congress plans to take up two immigration issues next week, including the controversial family separations taking place on the southern border of the United States.

Before those discussions, a New England lawmaker is traveling to Texas to witness the situation firsthand.

“That is absolutely appalling,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, describing the practice of separating minor children from their undocumented parents awaiting legal proceedings. “It’s cruel and unnecessary and un-American.”

Welch is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Saying there’s now zero tolerance for people trying to enter the U.S. without government permission, federal authorities have been separating many undocumented parents and children, instead of keeping them in detention facilities as families.

“If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently warned. “It's that simple.”

U.S. Health and Human Services this week released video of one of its centers for young undocumented immigrants in Texas, which Welch and six other members of Congress plan to visit Sunday.

It’s a crowded old Walmart now housing more than 1,400 children and teens.

“This is urgent,” Welch said of the need to address the practice of housing children separately from their parents. “They’re cruelly taking children out of the arms of wailing mothers. My view? We’ve got to stop this policy right away.”

The Trump administration has said tougher enforcement policies are overdue, to try to stem the flow of illegal immigration—especially from Central America.

However, in many U.S. communities, including last week outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Williston, Vermont, protestors have been saying the Feds’ behavior on the border feels un-American.

“I think all of us who are parents, who are grandparents, can't imagine the idea of having our children pulled away from us,” protestor Ginny Sassanian of Calais, Vermont said at the Williston demonstration last week.

With detention cases backing up, Republicans in Congress have now agreed to take up two immigration issues next week, including family separation.

“We can come together on the fact that families need to be unified,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said this week on MSNBC.

“Now what we have is an actual chance at making law and solving this problem,” predicted U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

Welch said he and his colleagues should come back from their Texas trip with key info for Congress, as he pushes for increased oversight of border policies.

“Is it fair?” Welch said, starting a list of just some of many questions he seeks to answer through going to Texas. “Is it legal? Is it necessary?”

The other members of Congress traveling with Welch to investigate immigration enforcement practices are Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, and Reps. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas.

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