As the situation on the border continues to draw national and international attention, the Clarion Ledger asked Mississippi's elected officials their thoughts on the matter, specifically on children being separated from their parents. These are their responses.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker
“It is heartbreaking whenever children are separated from their families. This sad situation is a result of a border that is not secure and policies that have encouraged people to break our immigration laws. We need to enforce our borders and our laws while ensuring that everyone in U.S. custody is always treated fairly and humanely. I hope we can find a solution to this problem soon. There must be a better solution than a simple choice between ‘catch and release’ and separating children from their parents.”
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith
“The Trump administration has made no secret of its intention to secure our borders, and I support that goal. The implementation of the zero-tolerance policy and the separation of children from their parents is distressing to me as a mother, but we cannot lose sight that U.S. immigration laws must be enforced. This detention issue highlights that fact that both Democrats and Republicans need to get serious about properly securing our borders so that we can avoid these types of situations.”
Facebook campaign: Zuckerberg helps raise $5M to reunite immigrants families
Heartbreaking audio: Immigrant children at detention center cry for parents
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson
(Thompson traveled to Brownsville, Texas, Monday)
“After visiting the south Texas border and seeing children separated from their parents firsthand, it is abundantly clear that President Trump must put an end to his family separation policy. As a member of Congress, a grandfather and an American, it is obvious to me that this horrific policy goes against everything our country and the American people stand for. Families belong together, and babies and children should never be used as political pawns in the immigration debate.
“It is also clear that this policy was not well thought out and has led to chaos and crowding in facilities along the border. Poor government coordination has led to confusion and families not knowing where their loved ones are or if they are safe. These problems will only escalate if President Trump’s policy continues.
“Attempting to use Scripture to defend the indefensible — needlessly breaking up families — is not compatible with the teachings of any church I know. I call on President Trump to rescind his terrible policy and ensure that parents and children are together as their immigration proceedings move forward.”
U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo
“Overall, it’s a terrible, sad situation that unfortunately has been created by years of liberal policies that lead illegal immigrants to believe they can freely stroll through our borders. There is no law requiring separation of families at the border. In April, Attorney General (Jeff) Sessions implemented a zero-tolerance policy that mandates that each person caught illegally crossing the U.S. border be criminally prosecuted. I stand firmly behind that policy.
“However, the separation we are seeing now is due to interpretation of previous legal agreements that state the government is required to release immigrant children without necessary delay. That (policy) was established by the Clinton administration and has been used as a loophole for years so that adults entering illegally might avoid prosecution. Now that our current attorney general is enforcing the prosecution of these adults, this separation of families is the adverse effect created by a past liberal policy. I believe there should be a solution to this problem, but not prosecuting these adults who illegally cross the border is out of the question. And I will not allow the Democrats and liberal media to use this issue to push amnesty or other unsafe immigration policies down the throats of the American people.“
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper
"The Trump Administration is making the enforcement of our immigration laws a priority. President Trump made immigration a priority in his campaign for presidency, and I believe that a substantial portion of voters support existing immigration laws. The goal is to guarantee border security for the American people, enforce the existing rule of law, and close loopholes that currently exist within our immigration system.
"I believe, along with many Americans, in the rule of law. While it is disheartening to see children separated from their families, it is a direct result of their parents' decision to break federal law and bring them across the border illegally.
"The vast majority of children that are crossing the border are unaccompanied minors, meaning that the majority of families crossing the border have already made the decision to self-separate.
"The Department of Homeland Security has taken custody of approximately 2,000 children who were brought across the border illegally by their parents. Federal law does not allow for children to be held in ICE detention centers with their parents. It would also be inhumane for us to release the children to fend for themselves or for the children to be sent back to their country without their families with them.
"This is a daunting problem that both Presidents Bush and Obama faced as well. I am opposed to illegal immigration, but we should be discussing a way to change the law so that these families with young children won't be separated even in a zero-tolerance environment."
Gov. Phil Bryant
"Like I shared with President Trump at the White House recently, America is a nation of laws, and I am grateful his administration is enforcing them. Every state must make similar decisions when removing a child who has been neglected or abused by their parents. It is an unfortunate reality of our justice system."
Congressional candidate Michael Guest
“This is a complicated, complex issue that was not caused by President Trump, but he and his administration have inherited it and are working on a solution that is humane but also keeps in the forefront that we must do more to secure our border to stop illegal immigration.”
Congressional candidate Whit Hughes
"In America, we must enforce our laws, but at the same time not tear families apart. I support Sen. Ted Cruz’s new emergency, legislative plan that would immediately resolve this problem at the border. His plan keeps families together while they are awaiting their immigration hearing and at the same time provides our agents and officials on the border the resources they need to take control of this process. This much needed reform is a good first step to fixing the broken immigration system, and I hope Congress will act quickly on passing his language. I appreciate Sen. Cruz’s common sense response to this problem."
Congressional candidate David Baria
"The situation unfolding at the border is heartbreaking. Who would not be moved by the images of children crying behind chain-link, cage fencing and disgusted that this could take place in the United States?
"I applaud groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics for taking a stand and have urged the Mississippi congressional delegation to immediately speak out against this immoral and un-American action.
"Many people are confused by this new policy and maintain that immigration law has required this action for years. While the letter of the law may not have changed, this new administration policy of separation only began when implemented by (White House Chief of Staff) John Kelly in April 2017 when he was secretary of Homeland Security. There are some who applaud the Trump Administration for this enforcement action. I am not among them. Americans should never use innocent children as leverage to address a policy matter — even one as important as fixing our broken immigration system.
"In the wake of this tragedy, legislation has been proposed that would bar border agents from taking children from their parents. If I were in the United States Senate today, I would sponsor and support such a bill."
U.S. Senate candidate Howard Sherman
"The manner in which kids at the border are being treated is disgraceful. When you rip a child away from its parents, you do irreparable harm to the child. We see this everyday at Hope Village. (Note: Hope Village is a group home for foster children founded by Sherman and his wife, Sela Ward.)Return the children to their parents and deal with the issue in a humane way.
"'Mr. Sessions, tear down the cages, and return these kids to their mothers and fathers.' Honor the heritage of America by treating people humanely, even when enforcing the law.
"Separating children from their parents to create negotiating leverage is nothing more than resorting to hostage taking. The U.S. has a stated policy of not negotiating with hostage takers. So why would we assume the role of the kidnapper if we reject similar actions when Americans are detained against their will? That is not who we are!
"Laws need to be enforced until they are changed. But policies need to be consistent with the soul and heart of America. We don’t treat our own children who are caught up in an unfortunate situation that way. Applying a different standard of 'humanity' to children who were not fortunate to be born here is cruel, unnecessary and is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
"Let’s stop treating the immigration issue like it is a political football. It is not a game. Our safety and security needs to be honored. Our borders need to be secure. And a policy for who is admitted to this country and under what circumstances should be something both political parties should be able to come together on. America has led the world in creating moral standards that other countries can look up to. The solution needs to be consistent with our heritage and playbook because in the current moment, we are looking up and not down at other countries that are humanely working to solve the problem of displaced individuals."
U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy
“We must work to find common ground on immigration. The policy of separating children from their families is misguided. America can do better —we can have secure borders WITHOUT punishing innocent children. A senator must be strong enough to stand up to our president when he is mistaken and at the same time willing to seek common ground on these important issues. We can solve this issue with the right combination of common sense and compassion.”
U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel
"I agree with President Trump.
"First, we need to expedite the process of determining whether an immigrant traveling with a child who is making an asylum claim meets the definition under the law. That will require hiring more judges to handle the caseload but would relieve the requirement of caring for thousands of minor children while their parents whose cases are pending are incarcerated.
"Moreover, anyone denied asylum should be deported with their children. We simply cannot absorb thousands more children without legal status which is happening under the current policy.
"President Trump is right. Illegal immigration is a serious matter. Our laws must be enforced."