Federal officials know where "every single" child that's been detained at the border is, and they know how to connect them with the parent or adult who brought them into the United States. Sen. James Lankford said Sunday.
"This is an issue that's gone out there somewhat in some of the other media that's not been responsible with this, that with the assumption that the administration lost track of that," the Oklahoma Republican told NBC "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd.
Career professionals work with the Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he added, not political appointees.
"These are career folks," Lankford said. "They know where every child is to be able to connect them to their parent or their relative that came. Many of these children that came we don't know if they're with a parent or not, and so trying to be able to make sure that we're connecting the dots on this. As you know, of the 12,000 or so children that are either total, 10,000 of those are unaccompanied minors."
However, the senator acknowledged that he does not believe the Trump administration has been fully transparent about its policy that allowed separating families, but at the same time, he insisted that guidelines must be followed before allowing just anyone to enter facilities to see the children who are being held there.
"I think the White House has not been clear on how bad the Flores Settlement is," said Lankford, referring to a federal court ruling concerning how long children can legally be detained. "The challenge is, you shouldn't just allow anyone to be able to come in at any time, to be able to view a spot where there are children present. I think it's entirely reasonable."
Lankford, however, said he would not call the situation a "refugee crisis," as the immigration situation has been destabilizing for years.
"This is something the Obama administration saw as well," said Lankford. "We started three years ago investing about $650 million into El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to help provide some economic activity for them...I've been in the region multiple times to be able to oversee how that money is being spent. But this is a long-term issue."
However, he said, the situation is growing. In 2013, about 15,000 families were entering the United States illegally; now, "we're up to 89,000 families a year that are coming at the United States as a family unit."
The senator also said the thinks President Donald Trump's rhetoric on immigrants, including a speech last week in which he complained countries "put their absolute worst" through a lottery system, makes lawmakers' jobs harder.
"The challenge of it is, there is a percentage where the president is absolutely correct on that...It is pretty small, and that's the challenge," said Lankford, adding that he prefers that the president would say most immigrants are arriving for economic reasons.
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