Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), defended President Donald Trump’s new zero-tolerance immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of children being detained and separated from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Should you or I commit a criminal act this afternoon after we’re done with this interview, we’re going to be separated from our families,” Barletta said in an interview with Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV on Friday. “So the laws of the country state that when you commit a criminal offense, children, you will be separated during the custody. I don’t think we should have separate laws for people who come in the country illegally and other laws for American citizens.”
The Trump administration has separated nearly 2,000 immigrant children from parents or guardians at the border in six weeks, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Many of those children are being held in juvenile detention centers where they are kept in chain link cages, sometimes with 20 or more to a cage, according to The Associated Press.
Trump and his aides have defended the new policy despite overwhelming bipartisan criticism, using the controversy as leverage to press Congress to pass stricter enforcement measures, fund construction of his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and even cut legal immigration. They have also suggested that parents of children separated at the border are criminals.
“We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are, in fact, a family. We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday at a National Sheriffs Association event.
“Don’t believe the press. They are very well taken care of,” she said of children separated from their parents at the border.
Barletta is a staunch supporter of Trump and has echoed his rhetoric on immigration. Barletta served as mayor of Hazleton, a small coal-mining town in rural Pennsylvania, where he pushed for a 2006 law to crack down on unauthorized immigrants; a federal court found the measure unconstitutional in 2010. As a U.S. representative, he later spearheaded opposition in Congress to a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform effort.
In his interview on Friday, Barletta argued that the separation of children from their parents on the border serves as a deterrent to unauthorized immigrants.
“Remember, why people come to the country illegally is because we’re not enforcing the laws. So if people knew when they came here what would happen, we would not have this situation,” he said.
Casey spokesman Max Steele blasted Barletta for his comments about the policy, accusing him of “defending the indefensible.”
“Congressman Barletta is embracing this inhumane policy of separating children from their parents because he is an ideological extremist and one of President Trump’s most loyal lapdogs,” Steele said in a statement on Monday.
Other Republicans, meanwhile, had more critical words for the Trump administration’s policy on family separation.
“Family separation is wicked,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. “The administration’s decision to separate families is a new, discretionary choice. Anyone saying that their hands are tied or that the only conceivable way to fix the problem of catch-and-release is to rip families apart is flat wrong.”