Defending President Donald Trump's now-rescinded policy of separating families at the U.S. Mexico border, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said parents are "putting their children in harm's way" when they attempt to enter the U.S. illegally.
Palin's comments came Wednesday night at a downtown Kansas City rally for U.S. Senate candidate Tony Monetti, a week after Trump signed an executive order halting his administration's policy. Monetti is a retired Air Force pilot running for the Republican nomination to face incumbent U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, this fall.
"Personally, when I'm observing what's going on with families separated, I'm very angry at the parents who are bringing their children, putting them in harm's way — bringing them to the border knowing that they're going to try to get in illegally knowing that there will be ramifications," Palin said. "And that's been resulting in the separation of families."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen instituted the "zero tolerance" policy that separated families, placing parents accused of crossing the border illegally in jail and their children in custody. Trump bent to bipartisan pressure last week and signed an executive order to end the policy after repeatedly blaming Democrats for his own administration's policy.
Despite the revocation, Palin stood by the policy.
"The parents need to quit doing that," she said. "They're putting their children in harm's way."
Palin split with her 2008 running mate, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who called the zero tolerance policy "an affront to the decency of the American people and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded" in a Twitter post days before Trump revoked the policy.
"The administration has the power to rescind this policy," McCain said. "It should do so now."
More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents between April and June, and the Trump administration has considered erecting tent cities to house the unaccompanied migrant children.
Palin and Monetti both support Trump's proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That announcement won Monetti enthusiastic applause, whistles and cheers at his Wednesday night rally.
The crowd was more subdued when Monetti moments later spoke out against family separation, over which he split with Palin.
"We need to build a wall, but we also have to remember that we are a nation of compassion and understanding," Monetti said.
Monetti said the U.S. should not separate families.
"And I thank Melania Trump for going there and our president changing it to help the situation," Monetti said. "Make sense? We are all a nation of immigrants, ladies and gentlemen. Let's stop dividing ourselves. Why are we doing this to this country?"
Palin said she appreciated that Monetti kicked off his immigration comments with support for the wall, but he began with other immigration reforms. He said his mom and dad were "legal immigrants."
"It took my mom five and a half years to become a citizen. She got in line, but I got news for you. There are certain things we can do to improve immigration," Monetti said.
Over the course of his campaign, Monetti said he had been hearing the U.S. needs immigrants to fill jobs.
"And what we need to do is look for ways for merit-based immigration to improve the process, and I think our president is right on target on that," Monetti said.
Monetti will face Missouri's Republican attorney general, Josh Hawley, in the August primary. Hawley is the front-runner in the GOP race, which also includes Austin Petersen and Courtland Sykes, among others.