MCALLEN, Texas – Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz were in the Rio Grande Valley on Friday visiting shelters holding undocumented immigrant children.
During a news conference, Cornyn described children he saw while he was at the detention centers. He said the most compelling moment during his visit was when he saw an 8-week-old baby whose mother is 16 years old.
Cornyn said families should not be separated and keeping it that way will require legislation.
Cornyn and Cruz introduced legislation that would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep immigrant families together.
“If you don’t have a zero-tolerance program, then that means you have a tolerance program, meaning you tolerate illegal immigration. That is the catch and release problem that is what Chief (Manuel) Padilla mentioned when the numbers spike and cartels think they can beat the system,” Cornyn said.
Efren Olivares, an immigration lawyer who has interviewed 380 parents who have been separated from their children since May, said none of those parents were prosecuted in federal court in McAllen on Friday.
Olivares said it will be very difficult to reunite children with their parents.
“These government agencies were not prepared and were not designed for family separation. The children end up at a shelter with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The parents are at an ICE detention facility. Those are two separate systems are not designed to communicate with each other,” Olivares said.
Olivares said he does not know how the government is keeping track of separated families.
Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, Manuel Padilla Jr., said 500 families have already been reunified in the sector.
It's unclear when the other hundreds of children who have been taken away from their relatives will be reunited.
President Donald Trump has said it is up to Congress to fix immigration laws. One immigration bill has already failed. House Republicans are set to vote on another bill next week.
As lawmakers discuss what to do next in regards to the immigration crisis, it’s not stopping volunteers from across the country from helping.
Michael Crider, his family and fellow church members went to the Valley from Austin to volunteer at Catholic Charities RGV in McAllen.
“They had a couple of dozen people last night, who spent the night, to take them to friends and relatives throughout the United States,” Crider said.
Crider said the volunteers were expecting about 100 people Friday afternoon.