© 2020 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Florida Congresswoman Meets Immigrant Mom Who Was Detained Thousands Of Miles From Sons

A woman who was separated from her two sons at the U.S. border paid $15,000 in bond to be released from detention. But the federal government did not make arrangements to send her from the West Coast to Florida, where her children were being held, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said after meeting the woman on Friday.

The woman was not able to travel by plane. She was transported instead "like a baton in a relay race," handed off from one volunteer's car to the next over thousands of miles, so she could be reunited with her children here after nearly two months apart, Wasserman Schultz said.

The Democrat held a roundtable discussion with immigration lawyers and activists about the ongoing family separation crisis after meeting the woman on Friday morning.

Wasserman Schultz did not reveal the woman's name or other details about her circumstances to protect her privacy. She said it was one of the many examples of how the Trump administration's recent policy of separating children from their immigrant parents continues to affect South Florida.

Wasserman Schultz said she learned something new while meeting the woman at her Sunrise office: that family separations are happening not only at the U.S. border but also at airports and in communities in Florida. She's concerned that could worsen for Venezuelan refugees as they flee that country's political and economic unrest.

"There are children being separated from their families right here in Broward County — parents arrested and sent to the detention center in Pompano, children taken away from them and put into foster care," she said. "And that is no less unacceptable than children being torn from their parents at the border."

Wasserman Schultz's remarks come two days after 17 protesters were arrested in Miramar for stopping traffic during a demonstration against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the federal agency that has been most vilified for Trump's controversial policies.

Wasserman Schultz said ICE needs to be "imploded and rebuilt," but she stopped short of joining a growing movement on the political left to abolish the agency, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"There is absolutely no question that the ICE we know today needs to be put on ice and needs to be dramatically reformed, transformed," she said.

During the discussion, an immigrant activist asked Wasserman Schultz to advocate for cutting ICE's budget and raised the idea of getting rid of ICE altogether.
Wasserman Schultz said reducing funding for ICE could worsen the situation.

"You would give ICE cover. … They could say we're not giving them enough money to enforce the law or treat people humanely," she said.

Also, she said ICE performs "a tremendous amount of child protection through cybersecurity and forensic investigations."

Talking to reporters after the meeting, she wouldn't say why she doesn't support abolishing ICE. She and other Democrats are under pressure from the left wing of the party to take more extreme positions on immigration and other issues issues leading up to November's midterm elections.

Wasserman Schultz said she was gathering information during the roundtable to inform amendments she might introduce to a homeland security appropriations bill that will be up in a committee next week. She said she plans to "sound the alarm bells" about the remaining obstacles to reuniting immigrant families, like unreasonable amounts of money being demanded for bonds.

"Families need to be kept together, and your means should not be a factor in whether or not you're able to get justice," she said.

A representative of ICE did not immediately return a request for comment.