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This is not who we are

COMMENTARY: When I think about immigration, I always wonder how different my own life would be if America had turned my father away, or broken up his family, when he immigrated here from Germany as a young boy in the 1930s. That’s not an abstract question for thousands of families in the wake of an immoral policy by the Trump Administration to intentionally separate immigrant families.

The lengths that the Trump Administration will go to incite fear and terror in our immigrant communities are truly heartless. Last week, a Customs and Border Protection official testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee stated that more than 600 families had already been separated under this new policy, which was announced last month. It’s impossible to overstate the immorality of ripping children as young as infants and toddlers away from their parents as a form or punishment or deterrence. The trauma these policies are inflicting on families, many of whom are already fleeing violence and seeking asylum, is horrific. And it is un-American.

I am joining Senate Democrats in co-sponsoring the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act. This legislation aims to protect the safety and well-being of minor children who have been left alone after their parents have been arrested or detained by U.S. immigration authorities.

Our bill would allow parents facing immigration proceedings to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensure that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained. It would protect children from being compelled to serve as translators for their parents in immigration enforcement actions. It would also require Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to consider the best interests of children in decisions affecting their parents.

I am also calling for an immediate end to the inhumane practice of separating families and detaining mothers and children. And I will continue to hold the Trump Administration accountable and ensure the laws that govern asylum for immigrants seeking refuge from violence and persecution are adhered to.

The cruel separation of families that we have witnessed in the last month is only one piece of a larger, systematic campaign by the Trump Administration to reshape our already broken immigration system. We must not turn our backs even further away from the ideals and fundamental values that made the United States both the most powerful nation on Earth and a beacon of moral leadership.

This new policy follows President Trump’s bigoted travel ban, his refusal to welcome refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, his cancellation of legal status for immigrants who escaped natural disasters and unthinkable violence in Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador, his ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and his continued calls for a massively wasteful border wall.

I still continue to believe that our nation desperately needs Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation that includes a visa system that meets the needs of our economy, a tough but fair path to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in our country who are undocumented, and a plan that ensures security at our borders. Rather than stirring up division and targeting law-abiding immigrants, we should prioritize ICE’s limited resources on violent criminals and make smart investments in border security. We must also act with a sense of urgency to find a responsible way forward for the estimated 7,000 Dreamers who are just as much a part of our communities in New Mexico as any one of us.

At the root of all of this, we need to reaffirm the humanity of immigrants — mothers, fathers and children who are overwhelmingly people seeking to come to America because of the promise our nation represents. I will continue to strive for policies that respect the dignity of these families, recognize the real needs of our vibrant border communities, and live up to our true American values.