DENVER – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed an executive order that aims to prevent state agencies from separating children from their parents over their immigration status.
The order is in response the federal government’s “zero tolerance” policy in which children of people who enter the United States illegally have been held in separate detention centers. The policy has drawn widespread criticism from politicians on both sides of the political aisle but the Trump administration on Monday defended the policy .
Hickenlooper’s executive order states that no state agency can deny a person services or benefits to which he or she is legally entitled because of their immigration status, except as required under state or federal law. The order also bars any state agency from using any state resources to separate a child from his or parent(s) or legal guardian(s) solely because that person is an undocumented immigrant.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s policy and practice of separating children from their parents when arriving at the southern border is offensive to our core values as Coloradans and as a country,” Hickenlooper’s executive order states. “The administration announced a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in the spring of 2018 resulting in family separations. The administration has recently stated that the purpose of the policy is to intimidate immigrants and deter crossings.”
“I am disgusted by the Trump administration’s policy of tearing children from their parents who are fleeing violence and seeking asylum. It needs to stop immediately,” said House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, in a statement to Denver7. “Using this to achieve a political goal is the height of cruelty. Those in Congress who remain silent in this pivotal moment and fail to act are complicit in this cruelty and history will reflect that.”
Earlier this month, a group of lawmakers introduced legislation, called the Keep Families Together Act, that says the government can only separate children from their parents if the parents are suspected of trafficking or abuse.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., signed on to the act as a cosponsor on June 8. As of Monday morning, all Democrats in the Senate had signed on to the measure.
“Separating children from their parents is both cruel and immoral,” Bennet said at the time. “These families are fleeing violence and instability and leaving their homes in search of safety and security. The administration’s inhumane separation policy exacerbates the trauma these children and their parents face. It also does nothing to make us safer and violates what we stand for as a country. Congress must take a stand and end this policy immediately.”
Bennet on Monday elaborated on his original statement.
“The increasing number of children being ripped away from their parents is sickening. Americans of all political stripes have spoken out against this immoral policy. Yet the President and his administration continue to perpetuate falsehoods and blame others for their own cruelty,” he said. “Their separation policy undermines our most sacred values as Americans, fails to keep our country safer, and causes unnecessary trauma for thousands of children and families. Every member of Congress must stand up for these children by demanding that the administration end its policy now.”
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., demanded answers from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Customs and Border protections.
“President Trump is tearing apart families and terrorizing migrant children. His policies are immoral and not required by law. He must be stopped. It should go without saying - children should not be held as political hostages,” said Polis. “I can’t even begin to understand the pain and confusion that migrant parents are going through, and I hope to help them get answers. They deserve to know exactly where their kids are and when will they see - or even talk to - them again. They deserve to be reunited with their children immediately.”
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said Monday afternoon he’d reached out to Feinstein’s office and offered to introduce a similar measure in the House if necessary.
"This afternoon, I reached out to Sen. Feinstein's office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border. If that means introducing her bill in the House, I’d be honored to stand with her. If there is a better bill sponsor to get this done, or if there is a better approach from Senator Sasse, I’m open to all reasonable options,” Coffman said in a statement. “Tearing children from the arms of parents and then isolating them alone is antithetical to the America I grew up in, and to the America that I have many times fought to defend. This isn’t who we are. My colleagues should mark their words and this moment — history won’t remember well those who support the continuation of this policy."
Hickenlooper's order applies only to cases in which children have been separated from their parents based solely on immigration status; it doesn’t affect cases where children are taken into state custody for other issues, such as concerns about human trafficking or abuse.