Gov. candidates oppose family separation policy

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Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Republican Steve Pearce and Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham both oppose the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, which separates children and their parents at the border.

And the two gubernatorial candidates both agree the nation’s immigration system is broken.

But they sharply disagree over how to fix it.

Their position on family separation, in any case, puts them at odds with the person they’re hoping to succeed in the Governor’s Office – Republican Susana Martinez, who, in a Journal interview last week, firmly backed the zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings, which results in minors being separated from adults they come over with.

The two gubernatorial candidates – both of whom are giving up safe seats in Congress to run for governor of New Mexico – weighed in Tuesday as audio of children crying out for their parents and images of separated families fueled the national debate over immigration.

Pearce, a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House, said, “The current policy should not continue.” His district abuts the Mexican border.

“As I have stated many times,” he said Tuesday in a written statement to the Journal, “it is almost never a good idea to separate children and families. We must treat all people with respect and dignity. The political games on both sides must stop.”

He added that the nation must also “secure our border” and fix the immigration system.

Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called the separation policy “inhumane.” She visited immigration detention centers in San Diego earlier this week.

President Donald Trump, she said, has the power to stop the separation of families.

“He is traumatizing the country. He is traumatizing these children. He is traumatizing these families,” Lujan Grisham said Tuesday in video taken by The Washington Post at the U.S. Capitol. “It is nothing short of child abuse.”

In written statements, she has said there is overwhelming evidence that separating children from their parents has long-lasting negative effects.

The two gubernatorial candidates, meanwhile, have different approaches as the U.S. House prepares to vote on a “compromise” immigration proposal being negotiated by Republican leaders.

The proposal is expected to offer a way to help young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and now live here illegally, often referred to as Dreamers. They could apply for permission to stay.

It would also provide funding for Trump’s proposed border wall and impose stricter standards for immigrants seeking asylum, among other provisions.

Late Tuesday, the bill was being revised to allow children to be detained with their parents for extended periods, rather than being split up. The proposal would give the Department of Homeland Security the authority to use $7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centers.

Lujan Grisham, in a statement issued last week, said she opposes the compromise legislation. She called it an “anti-immigrant bill” that would waste money on a border wall, cut legal immigration and end “our obligation to protect vulnerable children, mothers and families lawfully seeking asylum.”

Pearce, in turn, hasn’t staked out a position on the proposal, noting that the legislation is undergoing changes and it isn’t clear what form it will ultimately take, a spokesman said.

Last year, he introduced legislation that would have allowed the children of parents who came to the U.S. illegally a chance to remain in the country lawfully.

Neither Lujan Grisham nor Pearce granted a Journal interview request on immigration.

The intense political pressure on immigration comes after the Trump administration, in April, adopted a zero-tolerance policy for illegal crossings into the United States. That means adults who cross illegally are prosecuted, even if they don’t otherwise have a criminal history.

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