Rep. Kevin Yoder, who wields influence over spending on immigration enforcement, is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to halt the separation of families at the southern border.
“As the son of a social worker, I know the human trauma that comes with children being separated from their parents. It takes a lasting, and sometimes even irreversible toll on the child’s well being,” Yoder said in a statement. “That’s why I’m demanding that Attorney General Sessions halt the practice of family separation at the border immediately as Congress works toward legislative solutions.”
Yoder chairs a House committee that guides spending on immigration enforcement. If additional funding is needed for expanded detention centers — or possibly tent cities — to hold immigrants, those requests will go through Yoder’s committee.
His stance comes at a time of political vulnerability. He faces a tough re-election fight in a suburban Kansas City district that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won by a single percentage point in 2016.
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In a letter to Sessions on Monday, Yoder asked the attorney general to take "immediate action" to end the practice of separating children from families at the border while Congress develops a solution. He also said the House stands ready to provide the resources necessary to keep families together while their cases are adjudicated.
"We can and we should protect our borders, but we must do it in a way that is humane and reasonable," Yoder wrote.
Yoder's position was much less firm a week ago. In a newsletter to constituents on June 12, he said he did not want to see children separated, but did not directly call on the separations to end and appeared to imply federal law required the separations.
Yoder's comments on Monday went further than the rest of the Kansas delegation. Other members expressed discomfort with the practice, but no one else called on President Donald Trump or Sessions to end the practice.
Some offered tacit support for the separations amid gathering outrage over the treatment of the children.
Nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Sessions’ decision to prosecute all adults entering the country illegally. Previously, many had been referred to immigration courts, which are civil proceedings.
The decision to prosecute everyone means parents are going to jail, and are therefore being separated from their children. The housing for the separated children has come under intense criticism, with images showing children in chain-link cages.
Opponents of the separations span the political spectrum and include former First Lady Laura Bush.
Sessions said Monday that law enforcement officials do not want to separate parents from their children. But he said enforcing immigration laws that result in the separation of children from parents is necessary.
He said without enforcing the laws, “we encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country.”
Trump has repeatedly falsely said that Democrats caused the separation of parents and children at the border. In fact, the separations are due in large measure to the administration’s policy.
Rep. Ron Estes stopped short of blaming Democrats for separations, but his office said Democrats need to stop opposing “common-sense border security provisions” that include additional agents to work with immigrants at the border, judges to work cases and a wall in some areas.
“Rep. Ron Estes does not want to see families separated whenever possible and believes that what’s happening on our southern border is indicative of our broken immigration system and the larger need for border security,” Estes spokesman Roman Rodriguez said.
Estes did not criticize the Trump policy of separations. A spokesman didn’t respond to a follow-up question asking whether the current separations are avoidable, given Estes’ statement that he doesn’t want to see separations “whenever possible.”
Ethan Corson, director of the Kansas Democratic Party, called the “Republican policy” of separations morally wrong and said they do not reflect the nation’s values.
“Children are not a negotiating tool — families belong together,” Corson said.
Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Lynn Jenkins condemned the practice. Roberts said that while he firmly supports enforcing immigration law, “I am against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.”
Jenkins’ office said the separations highlight the need to pass immigration reform in order to put an end to “this awful policy.” Jenkins is not running for reelection.
“Congresswoman Jenkins does not support forcibly separating children and their parents and believes the practice, which is not new to this Administration but has increased in volume under it, has gone on long enough,” her office said in a statement.
Sen. Jerry Moran said he is working with Senate colleagues and the administration to bring "the current circumstance to an end."
“Our immigration system is broken. This has become even more evident in the last week when children are being forcefully separated from their parents," Moran said.
Rep. Roger Marshall echoed Sessions’ comments. Marshall said he has empathy for the children who have been separated, and called it “terrible.”
“But at the end of the day we’re a country of laws,” Marshall said.
He said immigration legislation set for votes in the House would end the practice.
The U.S. Border Patrol on Sunday allowed reporters to briefly visit the south Texas facility where it holds families arrested at the southern U.S. border.
More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. Cages in each wing open out into common areas with portable restrooms. The overhead lighting in the warehouse stays on around the clock.
The Border Patrol said close to 200 people inside the facility were minors unaccompanied by a parent. Another 500 were “family units,” parents and children. Many adults who crossed the border without legal permission could be charged with illegal entry and placed in jail, away from their children.
Contributing: Lindsay Wise of McClatchy DC, Associated Press