Donald Trump

New York Republicans won’t criticize Trump for child separation policy

Only Rep. Peter King called to stop the Trump administration's controversial practice of child separation.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen defends the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents during the White House's daily press briefing on June 18.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen defends the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant children from their parents during the White House's daily press briefing on June 18. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Outcry against President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement approach has reached New York’s congressional elections, with several Democratic candidates and members of Congress declaring their opposition. Some notable national Republicans and conservatives have also joined the chorus of criticism of separating families apprehended at the border and locking up children – more than 100 of them under the age of 4 – in cages. (The president of the American Association of Pediatrics has called this “government-sanctioned child abuse.”)

Most New York Republican lawmakers and candidates have offered no condemnation of the Trump administration’s actions, but instead said they would vote for a bill banning it. Left unmentioned in most of those statements is that the bills they refer to would enact a host of other changes to immigration law such as funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. By declining to call for Trump to stop taking children from their parents, they are implicitly endorsing his strategy of using the children as leverage to force congressional Democrats to back his preferred immigration measures.

Several New York Republicans repeated the Department of Homeland Security’s claims, deemed misleading by independent fact-checkers, that the policy is mandated by current law and that to end it requires Congress to pass one of the Republican-sponsored immigration bills currently under consideration.

For example, Rep. Dan Donovan said the problem would not be fixed without both parties enacting immigration reform. Chele Farley, the Republican candidate running against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, pushed Gillibrand – rather than Trump – to take action by supporting arch-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s bill to end Trump’s family separation policy. Farley’s statement falsely characterized Cruz’s bill, which is opposed by Democrats, as “bipartisan.” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not bring it to a vote, which would moot Gillibrand’s ability to vote for it, and the White House has indicated that Trump would veto the bill.

One legislator and one candidate expressed more direct support for Trump’s policy. Michael Grimm, who is running for Donovan’s seat in Staten Island, described it as the “only way to end the absurd policy of catch-and-release.” A spokeswoman for Rep. Claudia Tenney – who, like Grimm, is an enthusiastic supporter of Trump – said the problem of family separation would be avoidable if families did not illegally cross the border.

The only New York Republican to explicitly call on the administration to stop separating children from their parents was Rep. Peter King. A few others, such as Rep. John Katko, Dutchess County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Marcus Molinaro and attorney general candidate Keith Wofford stated their opposition to separating families and left it up to the reader’s imagination which branch of the federal government should make it stop.

After reaching out to all New York’s Republican members of Congress and candidates for statewide office who had not already taken a position on the issue, City & State compiled a list of where each of them stands.

House of Representatives

Rep. Dan Donovan wrote to City and State:

“Our government has a duty to enforce our laws and secure our borders. Nobody wants to see families separated, but this problem won’t be solved unless both sides come to the table to implement meaningful immigration reform. I look forward to voting on comprehensive legislation to fix our backwards and broken system later this week.”

Rep. Tom Reed said through a spokesman who spoke with City & State:

“Congressman Reed is supportive of fixing this problem at the border and he is waiting to ensure that whatever bill comes forward absolutely provides for a solution to these child separations from their families. And he’s not going to support any bill that does not.”

Rep. Chris Collins responded to City & State with the following statement:

“I am supportive of the bills coming before the House this week. What we need is immediate, legislative action to secure our borders, end chain migration, and provide a solution for children who were brought to this country illegally at no fault of their own. Americans can be assured that President Trump and Republicans in Congress are working hard to deliver these necessary, fundamental changes.”

Rep. Claudia Tenney’s spokeswoman wrote to City & State:

“It is difficult to see families separated under any circumstance, however, the safety of American citizens and the security of our borders must be our priority. We must make sure we treat everyone humanely, while ensuring that our immigration laws are respected.”

When asked to clarify if this meant Tenney supported Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, she replied: “Families could avoid being separated simply by refraining from breaking U.S. law and attempting to cross our border illegally. No family is forced to be separated if they do not break our laws. If they are seeking asylum, they should go to the nearest port of entry in the first safe country they reach to enter legally under this status.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin’s spokesperson gave the following statement in Newsday:

Zeldin would support legislation “stating that the detention of any alien child who is not an unaccompanied alien child apprehended at the border must not be separated from their parent or legal guardian while in DHS custody.”

Rep. Peter King gave the following statement in Newsday:

“Our borders must be secured and we cannot allow the asylum process to be abused or worked around. However, the Administration must find a better way than separating children from their parents.”

Rep. John Faso’s spokesperson made the following statement in Hudson Valley 360:

“Congressman Faso believes this is a humanitarian issue and does not want children separated from their parents at the border. He is reviewing recently released immigration legislation negotiated in the House of Representatives that would address this issue.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik’s spokesman made the following statement to Sun Community News:

“She is currently involved in discussions with leadership to move the process forward on legislation to address DACA, border security and that would include a provision to stop children from being separated from their parents."

Rep. John Katko said in a statement to The Post-Standard:

"We must keep our borders secure, however, we must do so in a humane way that preserves family unity and keeps young children safe.”


Senate candidate Chele Farley said in a press release:

“The current policy of separating families is not in keeping with our values as Americans. Senator Cruz’s bill ensures that families are treated in a humane way by providing the resources to expedite due process and improve holding facilities. As a mother and a concerned New Yorker, I am calling on Senator Gillibrand to support this bipartisan legislation that would solve the problem now.”

Gubernatorial candidate and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro’s spokeswoman wrote to City & State:

"It's an unacceptable situation that doesn't reflect American values. Surely we can protect our borders without separating children from their parents. This can’t continue and the federal government needs fix it now.”

Attorney General candidate Keith Wofford wrote to City & State:

“Children should not be separated from their parents. All elected officials should work together to protect our children from these circumstances today and in the future.”

Michael Grimm wrote to City & State:

“It is unfortunate that this must happen at all. But, as heartless as it may sound, it is the only way to end the absurd policy of catch-and-release. Hopefully, our commitment to enforcing our immigration laws will serve as a deterrent to people taking their children on an illegal and incredibly dangerous journey.”