U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he is looking forward to a "spirited discussion" with President Donald Trump on Tuesday regarding immigration policy, and fully expects Congress to act on a solution this week.
Kinzinger's Democratic opponent in the 16th Congressional District Sara Dady, an immigration attorney from Rockford, said the congressman has not worked hard enough to protect children known as "dreamers" as national attention builds around the Trump administration's immigration policy, saying Kinzinger has not co-sponsored the Dream Act.
The Associated Press has reported nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.
The policy change was meant to deter unlawful crossings — and Sessions issued a warning last month to those entering the U.S. illegally that their children "inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions," according to the Associated Press.
Kinzinger, who co-sponsored the Recognizing America's Children Act, has said he believes undocumented children who have only known the U.S. to be home deserve the opportunity to be in the country legally.
"I do not support separating children from their parents, and I am alarmed by these recent reports," the Channahon Republican said in an email statement Monday to questions from The Times.
The current holding areas have drawn widespread attention after journalists gained access to one site Sunday. At a McAllen, Texas, detention center hundreds of immigrant children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets, according to an Associated Press report.
"Separating children and parents in order to deter people from securing protection in this country is completely unprecedented," Dady said in a phone interview Monday. "This type of policy has never been used by any president's administration in my 10 years of practicing immigration law. I have never seen such an immoral action. In the U.S., we do not use the suffering of children to punish parents; that's something criminals do."
While Kinzinger supports the protection of children, he is more selective when it comes to their parents. He supports a border wall between Mexico and the United States.
“I also am not supportive of parents putting their children in danger by illegally crossing the border," Kinzinger said in his statement Monday. "These parents are putting their children at risk for human trafficking, amongst other dangers. I hope my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, will support the compromised package that increases border security, provides a permanent solution for the Dreamers, and makes the necessary immigration reforms that will reduce these border crossings."
Dady said it is lawful to ask for asylum in the United States as a refugee and was critical of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy.
"On a warrant issued by the attorney general, an alien may be arrested and detained pending a decision on whether the alien is to be removed from the United States," Dady said, citing law 8 USC 1226. "It says 'may,' it doesn't say 'shall' or 'must.' Congress put 'may' in intentionally to leave it in the discretion of the attorney general, and if Congress knew the attorney general was going to use it in this manner, it would not have passed this law.
"It's unbelievable Congress can't trust the attorney general and the president to make moral decisions to not hurt children."
Trump defended his administration's border-protection policies Monday, rejecting criticism the policy has resulted in inhuman and immoral conditions, as well as faulting Democrats, according to the Associated Press.
"The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," Trump said. "Not on my watch."
While Congress members have focused on a targeted fix, the White House signaled it would oppose any narrow fix aimed solely at addressing the plight of children separated from their parents under the immigration crackdown. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump's priorities, like funding a border wall and tightening immigration laws, must also be fulfilled as part of any legislation.
"We want to fix the whole thing," she said. "We don't want to tinker with just part of it."
Dady was critical of Congress for letting the immigration issue get to this level. She said Congress has had six years to pass the Dream Act and has failed to do so, despite bipartisan support.
She said immigration reform is needed to give a clear path to citizenship for 5,000 Illinoisans, which will create more taxpayers.
"The Senate had no problem passing (the Dream Act), but Speaker (Paul) Ryan will not call it," she said. "Kinzinger will not co-sponsor it. He's an empty suit. He pays lip service, but he doesn't solve any real problems."
Kinzinger recently said during a radio debate in May he supports a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. He wants the immigration process to be “generous” but ultimately based on job skills.
“That brings the kind of people we want here for the jobs we need filled in this country and the innovation we need in this country as well as family-based immigration,” Kinzinger said.
The congressman's office said they will release a more detailed statement Tuesday, after a scheduled House conference call.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.