By: Liz Goodwin

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are flocking to the border, investigating conditions in immigrant detention centers and denouncing President Trump.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Katherine Clark and Mike Capuano of Massachusetts were among the more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers who traveled to the Southern border this weekend in a blue wave of outrage.

But they were unable to extract many answers from front-line US Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who are awaiting directions from Washington on how to accomplish the daunting task of reuniting the thousands of children the government separated from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” policy on the border. They also gave little information on where families and children would be held together under Trump’s revised policy — and for how long.
“Every question I asked seemed to have a complicated answer that led to two more questions,” Warren told the Globe in a phone interview Sunday. Even though Trump reversed his policy of forced family separations and says he is now planning to detain families together, Democrats are keeping up intense pressure on Trump and his Republican allies over a volatile issue that has become a political crisis for the GOP heading into the mid-term congressional elections.

Polls show that Trump’s devoted base is sticking with him and supports his decision to criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the border. But the Trump administration’s handling of the mass detentions and the resulting chaos are energizing the opposition and risk weakening support for the GOP from independents and suburban Republicans.

The Department of Homeland Security released a fact sheet Saturday claiming it had reunited 523 children with their parents so far, and had a “well coordinated” plan for how to reunite the remaining 2,053 children who have been distributed across the country to far-flung shelters and foster homes while their parents were deported or held in detention centers on the border. DHS added that it is working to “ensure communication” between parents and their children.

Tearful mothers in one detention center, however, told lawmakers they hadn’t spoken to their children and didn’t know where they were being held.

“We met with dozens of moms who don’t know where their children are, have not been allowed to contact them, and are simply heartbroken and grief-stricken that they haven’t been able to find their children,” Clark told the Globe by phone on Saturday.

On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order ending his policy of separating parents and their children for now, asking the courts for permission to hold them together indefinitely while they await their immigration court dates. Children and parents appeared to no longer be separated at a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, according to Clark and Warren. Children were kept with their parents in the caged-off areas, rather than being held separately and then transferred to shelters.

Warren said she was told by Border Patrol agents while touring the facility that under the new plan, men with children were for the most part being released to relatives in the United States to await their court dates. Women with children were more likely to remain detained in an ICE facility. The agents told her this was for the women’s safety, and because of a lack of detention space for adult men with children. Warren was also told that aunts, uncles, grandparents, or adult siblings traveling with minor relatives will still be separated from them under the new policy.

“This processing center is a tough thing to see,” Warren said. “I’ve just seen thousands of people held in cages.”

When lawmakers met with about 25 mothers later Saturday at the Port Isabel Detention Center, they were told the Trump administration has a long way to go before reuniting parents with the children who were taken from them.

“The reunification seems to be totally rudderless and without a strategy or a plan on how they’re going to put these families back together,” Clark said.

“A lot of people are not being told what’s happening to their children,” Capuano said.

Some parents complained they were being charged for phone calls, which made it harder for them to locate their children, according to Clark and Capuano. An ICE spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement that ICE detainees are able to call their children free of charge, once ICE has coordinated the call with HHS. The agency has not disclosed what percent of separated parents have been able to talk to their children.

Sleepy border towns have been transformed into hot spots for Democrats in the past few weeks, and the visits do not appear to be slowing. While Clark and Capuano were in McAllen, another group of lawmakers, including Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who is running to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, visited Tornillo, near El Paso, to inspect the “tent city” built for children there. On Thursday, a group of 19 mayors traveled to Tornillo as well, including Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a rumored Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. On Friday, Senator Kamala Harris of California, another potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, toured a detention center in her state. And 12 members of Congress plan to fast for a day to show solidarity with the separated children, including Massachusetts lawmakers Senator Ed Markey and Representatives Joe Kennedy and Clark.

The president has accused Democrats of seizing on his separation of thousands of children from their parents, which has been widely denounced as inhumane, for their own political gain. But the president also boasted that cracking down on immigrants was a political winner for Republicans. “They want to use the issue,” Trump said of Democrats at a rally in Nevada Saturday night. “I like the issue for our election, too.”

A Republican senator accused the Trump administration of taking drastic action on immigration in order to motivate its base before the midterms.

“The administration obviously made a very large mistake,” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “I know that some in the White House want to use the immigration issue as a force to activate the base for elections.”

But a recent CBS News poll suggests that the issue is more favorable politically for Democrats than Republicans. Seventy-two percent of Americans disapprove of separating parents from their children at the border, including about half of Republicans. Eighty-four percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents claim the issue will be a factor in their vote in the 2018 midterms, with just 43 percent of Republicans saying the same.

Clark said Democratic members of Congress have been inundated with calls from constituents who are fired up about stopping the separations. Her trip, organized by the Democratic Women’s Working Group, expanded to include male members because of the intense demand.

“All of us have received so many phone calls, so many e-mails from our constituents, and it’s so frustrating and frightening, the stories that were coming out of the border, that I’m not surprised that members wanted to come and bear witness to this and get answers to their questions,” she said.


Original story here.