Texas Rep. Will Hurd said Saturday that the use of detained children, such as those being separated from their parents at the southern border, as a deterrent policy is “unacceptable.”
“We should not be using kids as a deterrent policy,” Hurd told “CNN Newsroom” anchor Ana Cabrera. “This is something I think is actually unacceptable, and is something that as Americans we shouldn’t be doing.”
The Republican lawmaker visited the Trump administration’s temporary shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas, which is in his border district, on Friday night.
“This really isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” he said. “This is an issue about how should you treat children.”
Hurd also called for the administration to change the policy.
“This is clearly something that the administration can change. They don’t need legislation to change it,” Hurd told Cabrera. “This is a Department of Justice policy, and this is something that’s being enacted by (the Department of Health and Human Services).”
“If we have to separate kids from their parents, then we probably need to rethink our strategy on how we’re securing our country,” he added.
Earlier Saturday, Hurd said in a separate interview with CNN that the Trump administration has not provided an adequate explanation to him about how it is keeping track of undocumented immigrant parents and children being separated at the southern border and how to reunite them.
“That’s nuts,” he said.
The shelter primarily houses teenage boys who came to the US alone, and he said they are being treated well. But the very need to put them in a temporary shelter was a problem, he added.
“It’s an indication that the policy is flawed,” Hurd added. “We’re the United States of America. We shouldn’t be using kids as a deterrent for border security.”
Reunification procedures put the onus on the parents to use Department of Health and Human Services hotlines to track down their kids, according to information provided by the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services that CNN has reviewed.
Advocates who work with immigrants say it is extremely difficult for parents to track their children under the procedures, adding that adults in detention cannot receive phone calls, making it hard to connect with their kids in Health and Human Services facilities.
Based on information available to him as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, Hurd said his understanding is the Tornillo facility has the capacity to expand to up to 4,000 beds. He also said that in addition to the 2,000 children separated from their parents from mid-April through May, at least 200 more kids were separated from adults at the border in the last two weeks.
The Republican lawmaker added that the conditions for detainees at the temporary shelter in Tornillo were good.
“This facility is run by emergency management professionals that, you name the crisis, they’ve been there,” Hurd said. The kids “get three square meals a day and two snacks” and that legal representatives and case workers are on the premises, he added.
But Hurd said he has grave concerns after his visit about the value and prudence of the policy that is resulting in more family separations, and he questioned why the government would want to separate children and put more strain on an already taxed system for undocumented immigrant kids.
There are alternatives to separating families that still make sure those families show up for immigration court proceedings, he added, citing a DHS family case management program that the Trump administration ended that was more than 90% effective at having families meet their court requirements.
“Based on the visit and seeing the volume, we need to stop separating kids from their families, and we need to make sure we’re putting a little bit more focus on addressing the root causes in Central America,” Hurd told CNN. “We need to be exploring to alternatives to detention.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson echoed the need for the US to focus on the conditions causing the illegal migration, calling the current policy “unsustainable.”
“You cannot flood the federal criminal justice system with thousands of migrants per month into the system, extract guilty pleas from them, sentence them, somehow have some supervised release. The system cannot sustain that longer-term,” the Obama-era official told CNN’s Cabrera.
“This is obviously a deliberate effort short-term to try to send a shock to the system and drive the numbers down,” Johnson said. “History teaches that longer-term, the trends are going to revert to where they were before – 40, 50,000 per month – as long as we fail to address the underlying push factors in Central America.”
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Alessia Grunberger and Laine Mackey contributed to this report.