Calling status quo ‘unacceptable,’ Yoder says he’s working on ways to ‘keep families together’ in immigration system

Rep. Kevin Yoder was recently named chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee.

Following the delivery of a letter signed by a bipartisan group of 58 elected officials from his Kansas 3rd Congressional District demanding that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “abandon the practice of forced separation,” Rep. Kevin Yoder on Wednesday said he believed the “status quo is unacceptable” and said he was working to find solutions to the problem.

Yoder, who was recently named chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, recently traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on a fact finding mission regarding immigration.

“I’m heartbroken by the family breakups that are occurring at the border,” Yoder said Wednesday. “As a father to two young girls it is unimaginable what these parents are suffering. I’ve been working around the clock to fix the problems in our immigration laws so that we can keep families together while they go through the system.”

In a email newsletter distributed to constituents earlier this week, Yoder suggested that the current situation is the result in part of rules that prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from housing minors for more than 20 days. Here’s his full statement from the email:

As a father of two daughters, I too do not want to see children separated from their parents. Last week, in my role as Homeland Security Appropriations Chairman I met with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and my Democratic counterpart on the Committee to understand the facts and develop solutions to this problem. This issue is caused in large part by restraints in our laws imposed by a Ninth Circuit court ruling and the actions of Mexican drug cartels.

It’s important to note that any family seeking asylum who comes to the United States at a legal port of entry is not prosecuted and is sent intact as a family to have their case adjudicated. Only those who cross the border illegally are being prosecuted.

On my recent fact-finding mission at the border, CBP officials were clear: drug cartels are making billions of dollars off trafficking humans and drugs across our border at increasing rates. Adults and children are being exploited and manipulated by drug cartels for the going rate of about $7,000 per person.

As for actual families crossing the border illegally and seeking asylum, our laws do not allow children to be housed with their parents while we sort out their case. Parents have criminal court proceedings and the children are housed in Department of Health and Human Services facilities. However, under the Ninth Circuit court’s ruling clarifying the law, HHS is not allowed to house children for more than 20 days. So even if we want to hold a family unit together for a longer period of time, we are forbidden from doing so. The choice then becomes either releasing the adults and children together into the US pending the adjudication of the illegal border crossing charges, or holding the adults and releasing the children. Neither are good options.

I am committed to finding a way to make this work humanely and responsibly. I will continue to involve Democrats and Republicans in the process and believe there are steps we can and will take in our Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

Kansas Reps. Linda Gallagher, a Republican who is vice chair of the House Committee on Children and Seniors, and Jarrod Ousley, a Democrat who is the ranking minority member on that committee, delivered the letter asking Yoder to use his authority at chair of Homeland Security Appropriations to address the family separation issue Wednesday afternoon. The two met with Yoder’s district director in his downtown Overland Park office.

The group that organized the letter and gathered the initial signatures said it plans to release an addendum with the names of other elected officials from the area after getting several inquiries from officials who had not been able to sign the first letter.