SANTA FE, N.M. — With no mention of President Donald Trump, candidates for an open congressional seat along the U.S. border in New Mexico blamed Washington politics for the separation of immigrant children from parents who are caught trying to come to the U.S. illegally.
The zero tolerance policy on border security that led to the separations has rocked political campaigns in border states and sent Republicans on Capitol Hill frantically searching Tuesday for ways to end it.
Amid protracted negotiations in Congress over an immigration reform package, immigration authorities are arresting anyone who illegally crosses the border,
Under the current law, children can’t go to jail with their parents, so they are being separated and confined. U.S. officials said Tuesday they are still working out the process of reunifying families.
Water rights attorney Xochitl Torres Small, the Democratic candidate in New Mexico’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District, said Tuesday that separating children from parents is immoral and Washington is to blame.
“Our immigration system is broken, but Washington’s solution is to break up families,” Torres Small, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, said in a statement. “I won’t stand for it.”
Republican Rep. Steve Pearce is not seeking re-election to the seat and is instead running for governor. Trump won the district in 2016 but lost statewide.
State Rep. Yvette Herrell, the Republican candidate, said she supports Trump’s zero-tolerance policy but described the separations as an unacceptable consequence of inaction by Congress.
“Thanks to that inaction, we have a system that rewards those who violate the law and punishes those who wish to come to America legally,” Herrell said.
Both candidates declined to be interviewed directly on the issue.
Homeland Security Department officials said Tuesday that 2,342 minors had been separated from parents from May 5 to June 9.
Pearce has said it is almost never a good idea to separate children from families and that immigrant children need to be treated humanely and reasonably.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan, his Democratic competitor in the governor’s race, accused the Trump administration of willfully creating inhumane consequences for immigrant children and parents.
On Monday, Lujan Grisham traveled with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other House members to immigration detention facilities in the San Diego area to condemn the separations.
Democratic U.S. senators including New Mexico’s Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are backing a bill that would prohibit separations near the border except under circumstances such as abuse or neglect.
Building contractor Mick Rich, a Republican running against Heinrich, said family separations are the latest example of the nation’s “completely broken” immigration system. He called for reforms to end needless suffering.