This weekend, Maine 1st District U.S. House Rep. Chellie Pingree went to the U.S. border in Texas, as part of a delegation of Democrats from New England who visited a dentention center for immigrants there. Pingree tells Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz what she found out.
GRATZ: Congresswoman, good morning to you.
PINGREE: Good morning.
GRATZ: Over the weekend, of course, you went to visit one of the detention centers set up in Texas near the border. Tell us a little bit about what you found there.
PINGREE: Well, we went with a group of about 25 of my colleagues and we were able to see everything - from what the border crossing looked like, what it feels like for people who are standing, waiting in line, to cross at a legal point of entry, all the way through to detention centers, and seeing people been locked up and couldn't access their children. Frankly, of all the swirling rumors that we've heard - you know, kids, and mothers who don't know where their children are, babies in cribs and in centers with no mother in sight - we saw it all, and every bit as gut wrenching as we had heard.
GRATZ: The president, of course, is now proposing that illegal border crossers be deported without any court proceedings. What do you think of that idea?
PINGREE: It's sort of far beyond my imagination that we would have a president of the United States who suggests that we deny people, you know, any kind of due process, or the rule of law or court proceedings, international laws of asylum that have been respected in our country for decades. I can't even imagine that he would suggest that, you know, even in a Twitter post. It's just awful. And I don't think it represents American values, and certainly just would cause even more chaos than he has already caused by his own intentional actions.
GRATZ: So what is the best way forward, do you think, for these people who are approaching the border in large numbers seeking asylum?
PINGREE: Well, you know, they've intentionally started slowing people down at the legal points of entry. And we just have a long history of allowing people to leave countries that are in chaos, or where their lives are in danger, of going through an appropriate asylum process and determining whether they have a legal right to stay in our country. And we could have more people assisting with that. You know, we're cutting down on the personnel there, we're making it slower. And obviously while people are going through this process we should not be taking their children away. You know, prior to the decision that Attorney General Sessions made, we were seeing if people had a credible case, and if they did they were given an ankle bracelet they were sent up to stay with family members or relatives while their asylum case was being processed, so they could keep the family unit together and they could bide their time. And, you know, we've heard upwards of 98 percent of people show up for their court case. So this whole kind of catch-and-release fallacy that they've made sound like everybody, you know, escapes into the hinterlands just isn't true. We had a process that worked until they went to the "zero tolerance" policy.
GRATZ: President Trump also treated over the weekend it would be a waste of time for Republicans in the House to try to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Do you believe that?
PINGREE: Well it's unthinkable right now. You know, all we talked about is how important it is for Republicans or Democrats to work together. And there are plenty of solutions that we agree on. In fact, there was a discharge petition on the floor that had enough votes, and Republican leadership in the House basically, you know, danced around it, took it away and we didn't get a chance to vote on it. But I have Republican colleagues who are going to the border. I think universally people think that children shouldn't be separated from their families. We could move forward on that, we could move forward on a solution to the dreamers. There's way more that we agree on than we disagree on. And, as you may recall, the president made an agreement with leadership quite a while ago and then took it back. And that's one of the problems of dealing with the president, is he's the one who kind of messes up the works. I think there's plenty of ways Republicans and Democrats could agree on this in the House and in the Senate. And, again, it's just unconscionable that he would say that to Congress: "Hey it's an election year, don't get anything done." I mean, that's the one thing the American people don't want us to do, is to sit on our hands and do nothing.
GRATZ: Congresswoman Pingree, thank you for your time this morning, we appreciate it.
PINGREE: Thanks so much for your interest. I really appreciate it.