WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, said Monday he was working with colleagues to increase “family facilities” at the Southwest border so immigration authorities can stop separating children from parents.
As Maryland Democrats denounced the practice of detaining children and parents separately, Harris criticized an Obama administration immigration policy and said he was pushing for more border resources.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen flew back from a weekend trip to Texas, where he inspected facilities on the front lines of the Trump administration policy, including an immigration processing facility in McAllen and a center in Brownsville where about 1,500 children are being held.
Van Hollen said he spoke to a distraught mother at the processing facility “who would almost certainly go to a detention center. She was deeply upset – she did not know where her daughter was. Her daughter was around 12 years old.”
Van Hollen, a Democrat, said his tour “confirmed my worst fears about the reports we’ve been hearing.”
“We can have secure borders and do it in a humane way,” he said. “This doesn’t require a legislative remedy. It simply requires a new order from the president.”
He called the policy of breaking up families who have entered the country illegally “cruel.”
Gov. Larry Hogan also weighed in.
“Washington has failed again & again to deliver needed immigration reform,” the Republican tweeted. “Congress and the administration must step up and work together to fix our broken system. Immigration enforcement efforts should focus on criminals, not separating innocent children from their families.
Harris, asked whether he backed the separations, responded with a statement.
The Baltimore County lawmaker said he was working with colleagues to “increase the number of family facilities at the border, so immigration officials can keep families together.”
He pointed to the Obama administration policy derided by Republicans as “catch and release.”
Under the policy, Central and South Americans who were detained after crossing the border illegally were released into the United States on a promise to appear at an immigration hearing, typically months later. Most assumed the hearings would lead to their deportation, so they never showed.
“This policy resulted in immigrants missing their court dates and the federal government being unable to track individuals who entered the United States,” Harris said. “As a result of this failed policy, the federal government now holds these individuals at the border. Unfortunately, our borders lack the infrastructure to support all of the individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States.”
Harris said his goal was “to close the loopholes” of the catch-and-release policy and bolster family facilities in the border region.
The Baltimore Sun asked again whether he supported the policy of separating children from parents. His spokeswoman responded.
“To echo the Congressman’s statement, Congressman Harris supports the construction of new facilities so families can stay together,” spokeswoman Jacque Clark said.