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N.D., Minn. officials speak out on family separations for border-crossers

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, second right, shakes hands with President Donald Trump Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, at the Tesoro Refinery in Mandan, N.D., as U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, far right, and Sen. John Hoeven, second left, stand nearby. )Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor)

As officials from both sides of the aisle spoke up on the policy of separating children from parents attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border, lawmakers from North Dakota and Minnesota have added their voices to the debate.

While more Republicans, including former first lady Laura Bush, have criticized the policy, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said border security needed to be improved to discourage immigrants from entering U.S.

“The administration’s zero tolerance for illegal immigrants crossing our border has brought to the forefront of the nation’s attention the issue of temporary separation of children from adults,” Cramer said in a statement, but he blamed Democrats for not passing border security reform.

“Democrats continue to politicize this issue instead of working with Republicans to pass comprehensive border security reform,” Cramer said. “The best thing we can do for these kids and their families is remove the incentives to enter the United States illegally.”

Cramer also wrote that he would work with President Donald Trump to “fix our laws.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., hasn’t taken a direct stance, but said Monday the law should be enforced humanely.

“No one wants to see children separated from their parents. We must enforce the existing law, but we should do so in as humane a manner as possible,” Hoeven said in an email from his office.

Hoeven’s comments reflect other Republican statements, in which leaders still call for border control but respect sensitive situations where children are involved. Former first lady Bush wrote a Washington Post column published Sunday that criticized family separation and the stance of President Trump’s administration.

“I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” Bush wrote.

While an increasing number of Republicans are speaking up about family separations on social media, none had signed up by early Monday afternoon to co-sponsor the Keep Families Together Act, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced earlier this month. The bill would prevent Homeland Security from separating families at the border, except in situations when a welfare agency or trauma expert determines a child is in danger of abuse or neglect.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., tweeted Sunday she was a co-sponsor, posting a link to a Facebook post she made a week earlier that shared a New York Times article about a 5-year-old boy who was separated from his father at the border and sent to a Michigan foster family. Heitkamp said the story reflects a country that’s not living up to its ideals as a nation that “has been the moral compass around the globe for generations.”

In Minnesota, Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, also signed the bill. Smith tweeted her support Friday, “No child should have to face the terror of being unnecessarily ripped away from their family. #FamiliesBelongTogether.” Klobuchar tweeted Saturday she was an “original co-sponsor,” adding the bill needs Republican support before the Senate can pass it to the House for consideration.

Outside the Senate, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a statement Monday afternoon, “Separating children from their parents is a cruel policy which is bad for families and children, and will in no way make our country safer. This practice needs to end immediately, and Congress should move to consider reasonable policies to improve border security and reform our immigration system.”

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

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