Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, accused the Trump administration Sunday of “criminalizing” illegal immigrants.
Ms. Lee, who joined a congressional delegation that visited intake and detention facilities Saturday near the border in Texas, described the conditions as “tragic.”
“I mean, these people are being criminalized,” said Ms. Lee on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We went into the processing center, where there are cages, certainly. People think there aren’t, there are, we saw these cages.”
At the detention center, she said, “we talked to maybe 10 or 15 mothers. These are jails. These are prisons. These are people who are being criminalized.”
David Urban, a former senior adviser the 2016 Trump campaign, countered that the adults have been jailed because they violated U.S. law.
“To address the point that the congresswoman raises: They’re in jail because they’re criminals,” Mr. Urban said. “They broke the law by crossing the border illegally.”
He added, “That’s why they’re in jail. You come to a facility, you come to one of the ports of entry, you apply for asylum, you do things right, OK, you’re not going to break the law. You cross the border illegally, you’re going to be in jail.”
Ms. Lee called last week for the United Nations to send observers, saying that the Trump administration is committing “human rights abuses in our own country” by separating an estimated 2,300 minors from their parents after detaining them.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to end the practice of separating illegal immigrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border, but said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting undocumented border-crossers would remain in place.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, also downplayed the seriousness of illegally crossing the border into the United States.
“I think these are basically, these are misdemeanor charges,” he told CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.”
He criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for ruling earlier this month that gang violence and domestic violence could not be used grounds to pursue asylum, saying the administration was “trying to cut off people from even having that opportunity to assert asylum.”