Rep. Jim Costa visited the U.S.-Mexico border Monday to learn what challenges border patrol agents face on a daily basis and see an increasingly controversial policy with his own eyes on the eve of a possible House vote on immigration reform.
The Fresno Democrat visited a facility in El Cajon that housed 65 young boys and teens captured while crossing the border. Some had been forcibly separated from their families, and while Costa noted they seemed to be pretty well taken care of, he denounced the policy that put them there.
"This new policy of zero tolerance has 2,600 children being separated from their parents in the last six weeks," Costa said. "There could be 30,000 separated if it continues until August."
"That's not the American way," Costa said.
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump heaped the blame for the separated families on congressional Democrats and their "cruel legislative agenda." He added that Democrats must meet several demands, including full funding for a border wall, in any immigration bill.
On Monday, Costa rejected the notion that separating children from their parents was essential for border security, noting that the government has cracked down on real dangers such as the drug trade, human trafficking and gang activity spilling into the U.S.
"The bottom line is the president is now trying to leverage children in order to get his border wall without working on a bipartisan solution," Costa said.
Costa said the president first used this tactic when he ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), hoping to leverage DREAMers for a similar outcome in September.
"As a person, you see these kids and mothers with their children being detained, and your heart goes out to them," he said. "This is unacceptable."
Costa made the trip along with other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. In all, 15 members of Congress went.
Only a bipartisan, collaborative effort will make any sort of dent in the country's immigration problem, Costa said. As he prepared to return to the capital to discuss exactly that, Costa noted that any such compromise would have to end this separation policy. However, he remained flexible on other Republican demands – such as a border wall – provided DREAMers were adequately protected.
Costa wasn't the only local congressman airing his feelings on the separation of migrant families with the media.
Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, released a statement Monday on what he called "the 'zero tolerance' policy of the Department of Justice."
"The substantial increase of minors at our southern border is both a humanitarian and national security crisis. While we must work towards a solution that reduces the occurrence of illegal border crossings, it is unacceptable to separate young children from their parents. This is exactly why passage of a compromise solution, such as that being discussed in Congress right now, is absolutely necessary."
Valadao, who is often criticized by Democrats over how often he agrees with the president, appears to have broken with him slightly in noting the separations are a result of a Department of Justice policy.
On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted that the Trump administration had no such policy. During a media briefing and subsequent social media posts on Monday, she seemed to move back and forth on the topic before ultimately imploring Congress to act.
Although, like Trump, Valadao called for a legislative answer to the crisis. His congressional neighbor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, did the same.
During a Monday fundraiser appearance in Fresno, two attendees said McCarthy told the gathering that congressional leadership would meet with Trump Tuesday to discuss two potential immigration bills, with a vote coming later in the week.
Costa said he would reject the conservative bill written by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte but may be amenable to the second "compromise bill," which he had not yet seen. He also expected a vote to take place Thursday or Friday.