Republican senator Pat Toomey says migrant family separations 'exaggerated', then admits he has no idea and maybe it's happening a lot

Staff Reporter
Pat Toomey, Republican Senator: Reuters

A US senator has claimed reports of migrant children being separated from families and caged had been over-stated – before admitting he was no “expert” and that it may be as bad as suggested.

Republican Pat Toomey said the numbers of families split up had been “exaggerated significantly”.

He told national radio host Hugh Hewitt: “There are serious challenges at the border like, ‘Does the person claiming to be the parent, is that person actually the parent?’”

But in an immediate vault face, the one-time businessman admitted he had no idea of either the situation or the detail.

Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Texas (US Customs and Border Protection)

Mr Toomey spoke out after being questioned about the Trump administration's ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy which has see some 2,000 children taken from their family or guardians in just six weeks as they attempted to illegally cross into the US from Mexico.

Under the initiative, adults are taken for criminal prosecution, while under-18s are kept in wire-cage holding facilities. One in Texas has been nicknamed La Perrera - 'dog kennel' in Spanish - after pictures emerged of the grim conditions.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush has compared the system to America’s infamous internment camps where citizens of Japanese heritage were imprisoned during the Second World War.

“This is not my area of expertise,” admitted Mr Toomey when Mr Hewitt quoted the number of youngsters held as part of the policy.

“I’m going to have to drill down into this and address it. And maybe you’re right. Maybe this is happening with a higher frequency than I’ve been aware of, and it is certainly, it’s just not the right thing to be doing.”

And he admitted the policy could lead to a humanitarian and political crisis for Donald Trump in a similar way to how Hurricane Katrina led to crisis for George W Bush.

“Yes. I suppose it could,” he said. “I mean, I think clearly, the country is focused on this. Clearly, it’s a horrendous situation if a small child is being taken away from the child’s actual mother. So I think we’ve got to solve this problem.”

The comments came not long after Mr Trump defended the policy and refused to call a pause.

"The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility," he said during a meeting at the White House on Monday.