U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, said he hopes to pass legislation to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from separating children from their parents if the families are caught illegally crossing the border.
The statement comes amid a public outcry over the Trump Administration’s decision to implement a "zero-tolerance" policy, under which it is criminally prosecuting all adults caught illegally crossing the border. That has led to thousands of children being separated from their parents and held in detention centers.
In a rare break with President Donald Trump's expressed policies, Barr said he is against families being separated at the border.
Barr said he supports legislation that would keep migrant families and their children together while they are in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, but added that he wants to determine family relationships at the border.
"To truly protect children, we must not only change the law to keep families and children together pending resolution of their asylum cases, we must also insist on expedited familial relationship determinations and securing our border to stop human trafficking and the exploitation of children,” Barr said.
Barr also was critical of the immigration policy put in place by the Obama Administration, saying it encouraged child abductions and human trafficking. Prior to the zero-tolerance policy, families caught at the border were released from detention after 20 days and were asked to return for a court date in the future.
“This loophole has not only fueled illegal immigration and an open-border policy, it has invited human trafficking and child exploitation," Barr said. "In fact, under the previous policy, many children were separated from their parents in their country of origin, kidnapped or given away for cash to illegally cross the border with 'coyotes' posing as parents.
"This is what an unsecure border invites — rampant child abductions and human trafficking," Barr added.
Barr is facing a tough reelection bid. On Monday, the Cook Political Report moved his Central Kentucky district, which elected Trump by a 15 point margin, from "leans Republican" to "toss-up."
Among those critical of Trump's policy is his opponent, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath. The Democrat said Monday that the policy lacks basic human decency.
"I want a secure border," McGrath said. "I want our border to be secure, but I think the current policy is just sickening and un-American."
McGrath called on Congress to take action to prevent the Trump Administration from breaking up families at the border.
"It's a very simple response," McGrath said. "Congress needs to step up and be a coequal branch."
Other members of Kentucky's congressional delegation said Monday they would consider legislation to end the policy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls the flow of legislation in the Senate, was non-committal on the Justice Department's zero-tolerance policy. His communications director, Robert Steurer, said Monday that proposals "are being considered to prevent the separation of minor children from parents while at the same time deterring illegal immigration."
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, the only Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation, plans to join other Democrats in proposing legislation that would make it illegal to separate children from their families.
“The Trump administration’s cruelty is on full display as we watch families being torn apart and children left suffering at our border," Yarmuth said. "To be clear: this is a new policy being implemented by this administration as part of its continued assault on immigrants and immigrant families. President Trump could make a single phone call and end this heartbreaking ordeal today. He has chosen not to, and the refusal of my Republican colleagues to pressure him to act now is absolutely shameful.”
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, said he doesn't approve of what's happening at the border and that the House will explore legislation to enhance legal immigration and close enforcement loopholes.
“No one wants to see families separated in America," Rogers said. "It’s heartbreaking. We also can’t afford to risk the safety of Americans with a borderless, lawless country. This week, the House will be working on legislation to find a solution for these children and their families."
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, did not say whether he would support legislation preventing families from being separated at the border, but said he disapproved of the practice.
"Congressman Guthrie believes that parents and children need to stay together," said Lauren Gaydos, his communications director. "We expect this issue to be addressed tomorrow when President Trump speaks to House Republicans."
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green; U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Vanceburg; and U.S. Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, did not respond Monday when asked if they support the zero-tolerance policy.