Where Michigan's members of Congress stand on separating children, families at border

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — A growing number of Republicans in Congress are joining Democrats in opposing the Trump administration's practice of separating immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The criticism includes at least five GOP lawmakers from Michigan. 

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Monday that "now" is the time "for this ugly and inhumane practice to end." 

“It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process," Upton said in a statement. 

"For some time, I’ve said that separating young, innocent children from their parents is the wrong approach. The right approach is legislation to address the root issues."

Upton, Michigan's most senior Republican, called on the U.S. House to vote this week on legislation to keep families together, give "long-term stability" to the children of undocumented immigrants and improve border security.

The Department of Homeland Security said last week at least 2,000 children were separated from their families at the border in the first six weeks after the new policy went into effect in mid-April.

Justin Amash

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, has said the government shouldn't forcibly separate families seeking asylum in the United States "unless absolutely necessary." 

"Such separations are inconsistent with our principles as Americans," he tweeted in late May. 

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said, while changes in immigration policy are needed, “the notion of automatically separating families runs counter to my values as a father as well as the core values of our nation.

“We must find a legislative solution that balances our compassion with the fact that some individuals are exploiting loopholes in our immigration system and actively trafficking children across the border,” Huizenga said, noting the House vote expected this week.

“There is an opportunity to have a workable bipartisan solution if we can stop the partisan bickering and actually put our nation first."

Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, "wants to secure our borders, and he believes that parents who break the law and enter the country illegally should remain with their children while the judicial system works," spokesman David Russell said. 

Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, also opposes splitting up immigrant families. 

"I disagree with the separation of families at the border, as it stands in direct contrast to our American values," Bergman said in a statement Tuesday.

“President Trump is right — we are a nation of law and order. Therefore, it’s time Congress work without delay to secure our borders, and ensure our immigration laws and policy reflect our nation’s values and rich immigrant heritage.”

Republican Reps. Mike Bishop of Rochester and Paul Mitchell of Dryden stopped short of saying the Trump administration should stop the practice of separating families at the border.  

"As a father of three, Rep. Bishop does not want to see children separated from their families," spokeswoman Annalyse Beaver said. 

"What’s going on right now is a symptom of a larger problem, our broken immigration system — and Rep. Bishop is committed to working with his colleagues to find a solution that will secure the border, close loopholes and protect families."

Mitchell said in a statement that he's provided input on immigration legislation to be considered this week in Congress. 

"As a father, I am troubled by the situation at the border, which serves as another indicator of how broken our current immigration system is," Mitchell said. 

"I urge my Democrat and Republican colleagues to work constructively to secure our borders, address this issue at the border, and craft immigration laws that can, and will be strongly enforced."

Two other Republican members of Congress from Michigan have not yet publicly weighed in on the issue. 

Trump on Monday said "what's happening is so sad" and again blamed Democrats for "obstructing" immigration legislation. 

“The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won't be,” Trump said Monday before a National Space Council meeting at the White House. “Not on my watch."

“But just remember, a country without borders is not a country at all. We need borders.  We need security. We need safety. We have to take care of our people."

Trump has falsely blamed the family separations on a law supposedly pushed by Democrats, but they are the result of a “zero tolerance” policy instituted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April.

Officials last month began criminally prosecuting all instances of illegal entry into the country, locking up the adults and declaring their children unaccompanied minors. The children are then turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services for care.

In recent weeks, Michigan Democrats have called on Trump to end the practice, including Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, who decried the practice as "inhumane" and co-sponsored a resolution condemning it.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said his office has received 102 calls and emails as of Monday about the policy — all opposing it. He urged Trump to end the practice and indicated he's working on legislation to reverse it.  

“It makes me sick to my stomach seeing children being torn away from their parents and being detained in cages. This is not who we are as a country," Kildee said in a statement.

"It is morally wrong and cruel to separate a child from their family. Tearing apart families flies in the face of our American values."

U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, have co-sponsored a measure from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that would end the separation of children and families at the border.

"No child should be forced to experience the trauma of needless separation from their parents — scared, unsure of their surroundings & when they’ll see family," Peters tweeted Monday.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said separating families "endangers the mental health of children, traumatizes families fleeing unimaginable hardship, and is contrary to the legal obligations of the United States to those seeking asylum."

“No child should have to face such harsh realities at a young age," Lawrence said in a statement last week.

"This is inhumane, cruel and completely contrary to our American values. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to facilitate this injustice."

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, urged members of Congress to see "first hand" the conditions in which the children are being held. 

“The stories from the border make me ill. Babies ripped away from their breastfeeding mothers. Fathers driven to suicide. These are not American values. It’s cruel, inhumane, and does nothing make us a safer country," Dingell said. 

“Our country must end this despicable policy immediately.”

The House is expected to vote on two immigration bills later this week.

Democrats oppose legislation crafted by House leadership that they say wouldn't end the policy of family separation and would authorize family detention for those seeking asylum.