CHARLES CITY, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg said he believes migrant families separated by U.S. border authorities deserve compensation.
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, 37, on Sunday vowed to end the practice of separating asylum-seeking children from their parents or guardians if he wins the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and the White House next year.
“Can you imagine if you’ve been taken away from your parents and didn’t know where they are?” Buttigieg said to a 9-year-old girl who asked him about his position during a town hall in Charles City, Iowa. “The United States owes something to the kids in that situation. First of all, of course, to swiftly reunite them with their families. But we probably owe them a little more than that given what we’ve done. In fact, we definitely we owe them more than that.”
Buttigieg added, “We need to make sure that they have compensation and that we do things to try to make it right,” without defining what he meant by “compensation” or how much his proposal would cost.
“It doesn’t make America safe to separate families. And kids ought to have nothing to be afraid of from the greatest country in the world,” the presidential candidate said.
Another attendee at the event in the heavily Republican county asked Buttigieg about his plans to help boost legal immigration in parts of the country that rely on migrant labor.
“Another thing we’re proposing is what we call ‘community renewal visas.’ And the idea is that if a community gets together and says, ‘We need more people,’ then you would apply for an allotment of community renewal visas that will then be issued to people who commit that they will bring their skills and their resources to live in an area for a certain fixed amount of time to really contribute to te community,” he replied.
Migrant children were separated by the U.S. government under the Flores Settlement Agreement, which prohibited Customs and Border Protection from holding minors in detention for more than 20 days. The issue received nationwide attention last year after the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration, pledging to prosecute all cases of unlawful border crossings. Large numbers of children were removed from CBP facilities while their parents or guardians remained detained to wait out the legal process. The Trump administration over the summer took steps to roll back the Flores agreement, introducing a Department of Homeland Security rule that would allow families to stay together until their day in court.
After speaking at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration last week, Buttigieg is touring counties in Iowa that voted for former President Barack Obama before flipping to Trump in 2016. Although he’s polling an average of 7.1% nationwide, putting him well behind the double-digit support of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, he only trails Warren in Iowa state polls by 5.3 percentage points with an average of 17% of the vote, according to RealClearPolitics data.
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