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Minnesotans seek to keep immigrant families together

While his father, Daniel Del Toro, speaks out against separating immigrant children from their parents, his 2-year-old son Joaquin looks at reporters in the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday, June 19. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Daniel Del Toro remembers 1990 when federal authorities separated him from his parents, who had just crossed from Mexico into the United States.

"We come here because we are seeking a better life," he said Tuesday, June 19, about his family and fellow Mexicans. "We are running from violence." Holding his 2-year-old son, Joaquin, he said that his situation at 11 years of age is similar to today. "I don't see it as a crime."

Del Toro joined Minnesota governor candidate U.S.Rep. Tim Walz in a state Capitol news conference about how today's federal immigration officials are separating children from parents entering the United States illegally.

Walz and other Minnesota Democrats blasted Republican President Donald Trump's administration for what they call a political decision to confine children when their parents are arrested for illegal entry. Republicans, when they respond to media questions about the situation, generally are not as directly critical of Trump, but they agree families should not be separated.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April ordered federal prosecutors to adopt "a zero-tolerance"" policy for illegal border crossings, an order that included prosecuting parents traveling with their children.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's website says children in its custody "are provided with appropriate care, including medical care, mental health care and educational programs. Children are normally held in a temporary shelter or hosted by an appropriate family."

Most Democrats, and many Republicans, use the word "cages" when describing where the children are held.

Minnesota politician-parents of both parties almost inevitably talk about their children when discussing the issue.

"The United States should not forcibly break up families," U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican who serves the western Twin Cities, said. "That is just not what America is about."

Walz called for Republican governor candidates to say where they stand on the federal government issue, but only after mentioning the time he spent with his two children on Father's Day.

He said a campaign, even for governor, should be like a job interview, and voters need to know where candidates stand on such a moral issue.

Neither major Republican candidate, Jeff Johnson or Tim Pawlenty, immediately responded to Walz's request.

Walz said he would refuse a president's order to send National Guard troops to enforce the child-separation policy. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would not send troops to back the Trump border-crossing practice.

Walz said he was flying back to Washington Tuesday night, June 19, for potential Wednesday votes on two Republican bills about the situation. He said he would keep an open mind, but he is "skeptical" of the legislation.

U.S. Sen.Tina Smith, a Democrat appointed to replace Al Franken, has been vocal against the Trump policy and went on CNN Tuesday to say the president "could change it right now with one call."

Although Trump says he is only following the law in separating children from parents, Smith said that other administrations have followed the law without separations.

Smith has called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign over the situation. "Some 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the border between May 5 and June 9. That is plainly wrong. It runs counter to who we are as a country."

In the meantime, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, a Democrat running for governor, joined chief prosecutors from 19 other states on a letter asking that parents and children not be separated.

"Splitting children from parents is inhumane, and we can do better as a nation," Swanson said.

Swanson's running mate, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, called the policy "child abuse" and signed on to legislation to end the practice.

Republicans generally were not as direct in their criticism. For instance, a statement from U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer's office said the congressman "does not want to see children separated from their parents," but the office blamed a "broken immigration system," not Trump.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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