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Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman Discusses His Visit To U.S.-Mexico Border


Over the weekend, the U.S. government said it had reunited 522 children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border. That means more than 2,000 other children are still waiting. Members of Congress have been traveling to detention centers to see for themselves how the reunification process is going.

Republican Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado went to Texas with a bipartisan group on Saturday, and today in a statement, he called the reunification process a mess. Congressman Coffman is on the line with us. Welcome back to the program.

MIKE COFFMAN: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So what aspect of this is not working based on what you saw over the weekend?

COFFMAN: Well, there was such a fragmentation of federal agencies involved in this. I mean, you've got, you know, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Human Services - Health and Human Services. And you've got others that are involved in this, and so - and Department of Justice. And so what worries me about these children - I mean, every meeting I - in these different meetings I had, the questions could not be answered because they'd say, well, that's not - the scope of our responsibilities are X. And so I...

CORNISH: So each agency would point you to another agency and say, they've got to figure out that part.

COFFMAN: Each agency would - yeah. There's got to be a bridge. I think what the president has to do, what the White House has to do is appoint one person solely focused on the reunification issue of these families. It's a horrible thing that they did - this administration did. I think it was unnecessary. I think that they could have sought statutory authority to Congress to keep these families together, but they did not do that. That was not a priority for them.

They went ahead with this policy of zero tolerance, and it forced them to break these families apart in horrific ways. And so now it's reunification. But I'm concerned that given this alphabet soup of federal agencies that are involved in this with no one in charge, how do we do this in an effective manner where children don't fall through the cracks? And this...

CORNISH: Were you able to reach any families or see any children, conditions?

COFFMAN: I was able to go to a detention center. And the conditions in that detention center were pretty good. But that detention center was for older children between the ages of 14 and 17. Although, you know, that's less traumatic on an older child than a younger child.

CORNISH: With the legislation that could essentially codify the president's executive order, allowing detention of migrant families to stay together but possibly have them in detention indefinitely - is that the right fix?

COFFMAN: No, that's not the right fix. I think it's - I would say last in, first out in an adjudication process, that what we need to do is we need to focus our resources, our - in terms of immigration judges and the courts on - if we focus our resources on these people that are the last in and adjudicate them quickly and those who don't meet the criteria for, whether it's political asylum or whether it's the 2008 child sex trafficking law, that - and send them back - I think that those who will - going back to their communities and their respective countries, mostly - the children I met were from Central America - then I think they will see that this is not amnesty, that there are fixed criteria that the United States has in terms of admitting people.

I think the problem is when they see that there's a two-year process and then, you know, people oftentimes don't show up for their court date, that that's what might - but keeping people in detention as an alternative to that I think is just - it's not who we are as a country.

CORNISH: We just have a few seconds left. And you've called on the president to fire Stephen Miller, the adviser on immigration policy. Just in a moment, can you tell us why?

COFFMAN: (Laughter) Well, I think Stephen Miller has his fingerprints all over this. This is chief adviser to the president on immigration policies. And how boneheaded a policy it is to tear these families apart. I mean, this - it's so insensitive. And I think that it got the appropriate reaction from the American people and a reaction internationally to say, you're a country that cares about human rights, and this is the way you're going to react. And so he needs to go because I - he - I just think he's taking this country, he's taking the president in the wrong direction.

CORNISH: That's Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado. Thank you.

COFFMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.