Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Joaquin Castro on Monday called on President Donald Trump to visit the South Texas border and witness the separation between immigrant parents and children.
“Mr. President, if you really are in charge, pick up the phone and stop this,” Luján told reporters in Brownsville, Texas. “The President should come visit these children.”
Castro, of Texas, echoed the New Mexico lawmaker’s call, telling reporters a little later: “He should do as Ray Luján said and come see the children for himself.”
The comments came at a roundtable moderated by Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela of Texas that included Democrats Luján, Castro, House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas,and Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida.
The discussion came after the lawmakers toured two facilities holding children, Casa Padre and Casa Presidente, in Brownsville, which are Southwest Key facilities where unaccompanied and separated children are being held.
The group in Brownsville was just one of many delegations of lawmakers who, in groups or individually, have been going to border facilities in the wake of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, which has had the practical effect of separating families. Also on Monday, 14 lawmakers toured detention centers in in San Diego, California, including one owned by Southwest Key program, the nonprofit group that runs shelters.
“This is so heartbreaking it challenges the conscience of our country,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters after the tour. “This is not an immigration issue. It’s a humanitarian issue.”
Separating infants from their families
In Brownsville, Luján described the Southwest Key facility Casa Presidente that housed children under the age of 12, as well as women under the age of 18 who are expectant mothers.
He shared details about a specific room in the center that he said held infants. Two of the infants, Roger and Lea, were separated from their families, Luján said, adding that Roger was about eight months old and Lea was one-year-old. Both were in the center.
“Well, you expect to see toddlers and young kids. Seeing baby Roger there really got me,” he told reporters after the roundtable. “We were told we couldn’t talk to the older boys. I still said hello. Told them good luck. I went to one of the classrooms and I said ‘make sure you learn your rights’ in Spanish.”
He continued: “That separation, that’s real. I know that when I was in there with everyone for a bit, I had to walk out. Out of frustration. And just thinking, ‘If the President has a heart, how could he let this happen?’ He should come in and see one of these little babies. Maybe hold one. Maybe he’ll feel something. Maybe it’ll set something right in him. I don’t know.”
The Department of Homeland Security told reporters in a conference call last week they have not been separating “babies” from their parents, but did not offer specifics of how that is enforced or what age qualifies.
A US official with Customs and Border Protection would not address the circumstances of individual cases but listed the only reasons that children younger than four might be separated from adults at the border, including criminal history or immigration history of an adult in the family unit, evidence of abuse that would indicate that the child’s safety is at risk, an inability to prove a guardian familial relationship or insufficient detention space to accommodate a family unit where both parents are present.
CNN’s Rosa Flores, Tal Kopan, Alberto Moya and Jamie Ehrlich contributed to this report.