JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) — Hundreds of immigrant children detained at a facility at the U.S.-Mexico border were getting good food and medical care and appeared to be in good spirits, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall said Saturday after touring the center he described as a “camp.”
But the Kansas Republican said he remains concerned about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers for processing immigrants attempting to cross border illegally and that his trip to the El Paso area confirmed his belief that Congress needs to pass legislation mixing compassion for immigrants with greater border security.
The center Marshall visited as part of a bipartisan congressional group has tent-like shelters housing 400 young immigrants near the Tornillo port of entry. Most of the young immigrants there are teenage boys, and Marshall said 26 were separated from their parents during a recent crackdown on illegal border crossings, as opposed to attempting to cross unaccompanied.
“The kids looked in great health. They looked in great spirits. I did not see one sick kid,” he said during a cellphone interview after the visit. “They all had smiles on their faces. They were warm. They were receptive to me. I played soccer with them for 10 minutes.”
The Tornillo port is located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of El Paso in an area that’s mostly desert, and Marshall said the temperature Saturday hit 108 degrees (42 Celsius). The tent-like structures have air conditioning. Marshall described the facility as a camp and said he was impressed by it and its staff.
Marshall represents the sprawling 1st Congressional District of western and central Kansas. While the district is heavily Republican and strongly supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, some business and agriculture leaders worry about tougher immigration policies making it harder to fill thousands of agricultural jobs. Marshall wants to couple border-security measures with changes in visas for guest agricultural workers.
“Nothing gets better without border security,” he said, adding that he plans to work on legislation to “tighten up” federal laws that prevent U.S. border security officers from immediately turning back Central American immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. illegally.
Marshall is the second Kansas congressman to visit the border. GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents the 3rd District in the Kansas City area, spent two days in early June in the Rio Grande Valley after becoming chairman of a U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.