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Will Congress Address Immigration Border Controversy?


The debate over separating children from their parents at the border is in part a debate among Republicans. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his zero-tolerance policy back in May. As thousands of parents crossing the border illegally have been sent for prosecution, their children have been taken away.


Republicans have responded in different ways. On NBC, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway defended the policy against charges it's inhumane.


KELLYANNE CONWAY: These children are handed over to HHS. Why? Because that is Health and Human Services. So that they can be put into facilities like El Cajon, where there was a report recently where there are boys ages 6 to 17 who are all there. They have the necessary medications. Obviously, food and shelter. They have exercise. They have education during the day.

INSKEEP: Other Republicans are denouncing the policy, ranging from former First Lady Laura Bush to Senator Susan Collins, speaking on CBS.


SUSAN COLLINS: It is inconsistent with our American values to separate these children from their parents unless there's evidence of abuse or another very good reason.

INSKEEP: And amid mounting criticism, the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen wrote on Twitter, we do not have a policy of separating families, period - thus denying that a policy other officials announced and promoted exists. Joining us now via Skype is Republican Representative Will Hurd. He's in Texas, where his district runs along much of the border with Mexico. Congressman, welcome back to the program.

WILL HURD: Steve. Always a pleasure to be on.

INSKEEP: Do you agree with that claim that there's no policy of separating families?

HURD: (Laughter). This is part of the problem with this administration on this policy. There's different elements of the government that don't understand what's really going on. Kids are being separated from their parents. In the last two months, there's been about 2,000. The previous year, it was almost 700. And a hundred of those kids were under the age of 4. This is just absolutely unacceptable. Taking kids from their mothers is not preventing terrorists or drugs from coming into this country. And so why we would even think that this is a tool that is needed to defend our borders is insane to me.

INSKEEP: Well, let's look at some of the defenses of this. We heard Kellyanne Conway, who said, well, you know, they're being treated more or less humanely, getting food and medication behind that chain-link fence. If they're getting food and medication, does that make it OK?

HURD: No, it doesn't. And this is a symptom of a much larger problem. And we should be addressing the larger problem. We should be working with the governments in El Salvador and some of these other countries in Central America to address the root causes that is causing this migration into the United States. We need more immigration judges in order to go through the process of asylum and things like that. We need to be doing alternatives to detentions, like the Family Case Management Program which keeps the families together.

All of these - and we need to have smart border security. Like, all of these things we can do. And we should be prioritizing this rather than spending the time of building tent cities and trying to separate kids from their parents. There's a lot of questions that are still unanswered, like, how can parents figure out where their kids are? How does a kid figure out where their parents are? How long is this policy going on? Are the kids going through the immigration process and the judicial process separately from their parents?

There's a lot of questions that HHS and DOJ have failed to answer. And, to me, you shouldn't have to legislate that you shouldn't take kids from their parents. We should know that as part of our value system, and this is something that needs to end.

INSKEEP: Well, let's get another explanation here. Secretary Nielsen, in addition to falsely denying that there's such a policy, said, look, there actually is a way to avoid being separated from your parents. If you're coming from Central America, if you want to apply for asylum, which you legally can do, go to a regular port of entry and approach people in the normal way rather than crossing the desert somewhere illegally. Go to that port of entry and apply for entry.

But we've heard from reporters on the ground when people do that, they may be turned away. They may never get an opportunity to apply. Sometimes they claim they even still have their children separated. Are the ports of entry functioning? Is that a reasonable alternative for people seeking asylum?

HURD: Well, if that is the process or the way you should seek asylum, you could seek asylum in your home country, as well. But I don't know if kids aren't being separated from their parents if they come to the ports of entry to seek asylum. One of the reasons is because you don't want to hold people at the ports of entry. They don't have proper facilities to go through the judicial process or review these processing claims. And so again, no matter where you are, you should not be taking your kids from their mothers and fathers. That's just unacceptable.

INSKEEP: One last thing, Congressman. There is legislation which the House could vote on this week which would say that separating families is no longer allowed, although it seems the zero-tolerance policy could continue. Which raises the specter of, I don't know, kids being imprisoned with their parents, or something. Does that actually fix the problem?

HURD: There is nothing that I've read in either one of these two bills that we're allegedly voting on this week that would prevent this policy from going forward. You don't need legislation. The administration can do this and stop this policy right now. But there's nothing that I've seen in this upcoming legislation that would stop this problem.

INSKEEP: Congressman, pleasure talking with you, as always. Thanks very much.

HURD: Take care.

INSKEEP: That's Republican Representative Will Hurd of Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.