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    Sunday, February 25, 2024

    Courtney among Congress members to tour ICE detention center in Texas

    Echoing comments from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said his biggest takeaway from his Saturday visit to a border patrol station and ICE detention center was the lack of communication on reuniting parents and children who had been separated at the border.

    He feels the first step is "to get the folks at Health and Human Services up to speed" on getting information to border patrol agents.

    "I asked specifically at the ICE detention (center) whether or not there had been any communication from Health and Human Services, Department of Justice or Department of Homeland Security about trying to reconnect their population, these parents, with their kids, and the answer was no," Courtney said.

    HHS press secretary Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement that Secretary Alex Azar "is bringing to bear all the relevant resources of the department in order to assist in the reunification or placement of unaccompanied alien children and teenagers with a parent or appropriate sponsor."

    On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the administration's policy of separating children from parents who were facing criminal proceedings for crossing the border.

    On Saturday, Courtney toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station and Port Isabel ICE Detention Center in Texas with 23 other Democratic members of Congress, including Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty and Jim Himes.

    Speaking by phone on the bus from the detention center to the airport, Courtney told The Day about the experience.

    Courtney said that through the translation of Himes, they spoke to a mother from Guatemala who got picked up with her two teenagers on Friday night after taking 30 days to get through Mexico. The mother said she didn't pay anyone to assist the family.

    The members of Congress then went to the Port Isabel Detention Center and met with 10 mothers who were waiting for administrative hearings, Courtney said. He noted that one mother knew her child was in New York City, but the others didn't know the whereabouts of their children.

    Department of Homeland Security officials said Friday that about 500 of the 2,300 children separated from their parents had been reunited.

    Courtney said none of the mothers was a high-risk detainee, which he could tell because they were all wearing blue, the color coded for low risk. He described the border patrol agents as "very professional."

    "The staff and the folks that are working here, they feel compassion toward the migrants that they're dealing with," he said. "A lot of them are Latino; a lot of them have family in some of the countries that people are coming from, and they do not think it's imaginary in terms of conditions that people are experiencing, but a number of the agents said we need to get comprehensive immigration reform."

    Courtney's last visit to an ICE detention center was to one in Arizona in his first term, and he said that visit had "none of the tension that exists here because of the family separation."

    e.moser@theday.com

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