Keller calls for immediate reunification of families

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and his wife Elizabeth leave a teddy bear as a gift for immigrant children that are being held at a facility in Tornillo, Texas, near the Mexican border on Thursday. Mayors from more than a dozen U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles gathered near the holding facility to call for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families. (AP Photo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, along with a bipartisan group of about 20 mayors from cities across the country, traveled to the Mexican border in Texas on Thursday and called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families, as well as for more transparency.

Speaking at the Tornillo Guadalupe Toll Plaza near a holding facility for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, about 40 miles southeast of El Paso, Keller said the cruelty of the separations is almost incomprehensible.

“These are dark days in America, especially on the border, when we see our leaders echo language that sounds eerily similar to Jim Crow, to internment camps, to the Holocaust. When we see our country take actions that literally betray basic humanity, these are dark days,” Keller said. “These are dark days when we have to be here with you today, when mayors from all around the country have to stand here and tell our federal government what they are doing is wrong.

“We are coming together across this country. We are coming together across cities, across states, and we are coming together across parties. We know what happens when we do that. We start to see change.”

The visit to Texas came a day after President Donald Trump reversed a policy of separating immigrant children from their parents who have entered the U.S. illegally.

Albuquerque first lady Elizabeth Kistin Keller also made the trip, providing a perspective as a parent to two young children.

“We were fortunate to hug and kiss our 2- and 4-year-olds good night last night before we hit the road, and we are heartbroken beyond words as we think of all the families – the parents, the kids, the babies – that have been pulled apart and forced to say indefinite goodbyes,” she said as she tried to hold back her emotions.

Two weeks ago, Keller, along with the mayors of Los Angeles, Tucson and Houston, called for an end to the family separation policy in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Also making the trek to West Texas, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber said the president’s zero-tolerance approach to illegal border crossings has traumatized children.

“We have to say we know wrong when we see it,” Webber said. “We know evil when we see it. We will not tolerate it. We’re going to stand together, and we’re going to stand for these children and for what’s right with America and the values of this country. We want these children united with their parents.”

More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents in recent weeks, according to The Associated Press. It’s unclear what will happen to the children already separated from their parents.

According to Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C., the delegation was denied access to the holding facility by the Department of Health and Human Services. The delegation of mayors also included Democratic Mayors Bill de Blasio of New York and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, and Republican Mayors Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Mich., and Tom Tait of Anaheim, Calif.

The holding facility at Tornillo has been housing teenage boys, many of whom crossed the border without adult family members. They were moved to the lockup to make room in other shelters for younger children who were separated by the government from their families.

Since opening earlier this month, the facility has been the site of protests and appearances by elected officials. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, after touring the facility last Friday, voiced opposition to the practice of separating children from their families. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, joined a large weekend protest that included numerous New Mexicans, including state Rep. Bill McCamley of Mesilla Park.

New Mexico’s two U.S. senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, are scheduled to be at the facility today, followed by a meeting in Las Cruces tonight.

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