Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Ruby O’Neill (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

Republican candidates running for the open 5th Congressional District seat are all calling for a comprehensive solution to the crisis at the southern border that has resulted in children being separated from their parents and placed in detention centers.

On April 6, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance policy” for immigrants crossing the southern border. As a result, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents.

All three Republican candidates — former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos, manufacturing consultant Rich DuPont of Watertown, and psychologist Ruby O’Neill of Southbury — back Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s legislation that would:

• Double the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.

• Authorize new temporary shelters, with accommodations to keep families together.

• Mandate that illegal immigrant families must be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.

• Provide for expedited processing and review of asylum cases, so that — within 14 days —those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum, and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.

Currently, under Trump Administration policy, children and parents are separated when apprehended by immigration officers and held in separate facilities. Photos and audio of crying children asking for their parents and young children being left alone in a detention facility have dominated national news in recent days. The American Academy of Pediatrics said the forcible separation of young children from parents is tantamount to child abuse.

“Children should not be separated from their parents in America,” DuPont said. “I support strong borders and I believe in enforcing our laws, but what is happening now is a tragedy and a humanitarian crisis.”

While not disagreeing with the Trump administration’s policy outright, Dupont said, “I agree with the President that we need a comprehensive solution to ensuring our national borders. But I also agree with the proposed legislation because it would keep families together for the two weeks it takes for their status to be determined.”

Santos, endorsed by the Connecticut Republican Party at its convention earlier this month, echoed those thoughts and sharply criticized politicians for the inaction, allowing the immigration issue to fester.

“Previous administrations have been too lenient on illegal border crossings,” Santos said. “Our federal agencies are finally properly enforcing our laws. As a consequence, our current system is being overwhelmed. Senator Cruz’s bill provides more resources to help correct and resolve a problem that previous Congresses were unwilling to address.”

O’Neill, who emigrated from Honduras with her family in 1954, took a harder line on immigration enforcement and called for Congress to fund increased border security, including building President Donald Trump’s controversial wall on the Southern border and ending “chain migration.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Manny Santos (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

O’Neill also called the reaction to the family separation “fake outrage” from national Democrats.

“It breaks my heart to see children separated from their families. I am horrified by the images I am seeing in the news and I am angry at members of Congress who express outrage after failing to do anything to fix our broken immigration system,” O’Neill said.

“What is obvious is that Democrats are using these children as political pawns to try and win elections. It’s wrong and it’s cruel,” O’Neill added. “There is not a single person in America who wants to see these children separated from their families. President Trump is enforcing existing law and if Democrats really cared about the children they would stop staging publicity stunts and start working with Republicans to fix the problem.”

Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto fired back at O’Neill and Santos.

“Let’s be very clear about the order of events over the last few days,” Balletto said. “After days of silence from Republican candidates as every single news outlet covered the Trump administration’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents at the border and their calculated effort to spread misinformation about that policy, two Republicans running to represent Connecticut in Congress have now taken a stand to defend the Trump administration and this specific policy.”

He said Democratic leadership on this issue is clear.

“As Democrats stand up against the administration and take action to end this policy, Republicans are standing by Donald Trump,” Balletto said. “The act of separating children from their parents at the border should supersede politics and party, but once again we have seen Republicans refuse to stand up for what’s right. One thing is certain: any candidate who is willing to defend this cruel immigration practice has no business representing Connecticut in Congress.”