Pat Toomey Says Migrant Family Separations Not So Bad, Then Admits He Has No Clue

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Pat Toomey: Families aren't being separated at the border very much. OK, maybe they are. OK, also we could be headed for a humanitarian crisis. Who knows! (Photo: Bill Clark via Getty Images)
Pat Toomey: Families aren't being separated at the border very much. OK, maybe they are. OK, also we could be headed for a humanitarian crisis. Who knows! (Photo: Bill Clark via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON ― Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said Monday that the stories of migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are overblown.

But a minute later, he admitted he had no idea what he was talking about.

In an interview with conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt, Toomey was asked if he thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions should reverse his new “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which often separates children from their parents so the adults can be criminally prosecuted for crossing the border without documentation. Previously, authorities typically kept migrant families together and routed them to immigration courts.

Toomey said he didn’t think Sessions should reverse the policy.

“I think the instance of the, you know, the heart-wrenching separation of a small child from the mother is, has been, the frequency has been exaggerated significantly,” he said. “There are serious challenges at the border like, ‘Does the person claiming to be the parent, is that person actually the parent?’”

Hewitt pushed back, citing news reports that nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents at the border in the span of six weeks. He pointed to other news reports describing children being put into cages in detention facilities akin to animal kennels.

The Republican senator conceded he didn’t know much about the situation.

“This is not my area of expertise, Hugh. I’m going to have to drill down into this and address it,” he said. “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.”

Asked if he thinks the immigration policy could lead to a humanitarian crisis for President Donald Trump along the levels that Hurricane Katrina was for President George W. Bush, Toomey, who had just said the situation was exaggerated, said yes.

“Yeah. 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.”

HuffPost asked Toomey’s office to clarify which one is true ― if the senator thinks the frequency of family separations at the border is exaggerated, or if he thinks it is fueling a potential humanitarian crisis. Toomey spokesman Steve Kelly said the latter “accurately depicts” the senator’s view.

You can listen to Hewitt’s full interview with Toomey here.

This article has been updated with comment from Kelly.

Also on HuffPost

May 1920s

U.S. border guards check entering Mexicans
U.S. border guards check entering Mexicans

May 1920s

U.S. border guard and Mexicans behind the border fence.
U.S. border guard and Mexicans behind the border fence.

March 21, 1929

A line of cars carrying Mexicans over the border into California. The fence in the foreground is the border; the line of cars is in the main street of Mexicali.
A line of cars carrying Mexicans over the border into California. The fence in the foreground is the border; the line of cars is in the main street of Mexicali.

1930s

A flock of sheep at the border between Mexico and the United States.
A flock of sheep at the border between Mexico and the United States.

June 1937

A pic of state border plant inspection maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture between Mexico and the United States. Shoppers returning from Mexico (Juarez) to the United States (El Paso) over the bridge that carries all the traffic are required to open their packages for inspection.
A pic of state border plant inspection maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture between Mexico and the United States. Shoppers returning from Mexico (Juarez) to the United States (El Paso) over the bridge that carries all the traffic are required to open their packages for inspection.

June 1937

Crossing the international bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
Crossing the international bridge between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

June 1937

Mexicans entering the United States via the United States immigration station at El Paso, Texas.
Mexicans entering the United States via the United States immigration station at El Paso, Texas.

1943

U.S. soldiers exchanging money at the U.S.-Mexico border.
U.S. soldiers exchanging money at the U.S.-Mexico border.

March 15, 1950

A view of the Sigma Pi sorority crossing under the Mexico border sign to Tijuana, Mexico in Calexico, California.
A view of the Sigma Pi sorority crossing under the Mexico border sign to Tijuana, Mexico in Calexico, California.

1950s

Pregnant woman at the border.
Pregnant woman at the border.

1954

Mexican farm laborers standing on the Mexican side of the border trying to get into the U.S.
Mexican farm laborers standing on the Mexican side of the border trying to get into the U.S.

1954

Mexican workers waiting just inside the U.S. border to be let in.
Mexican workers waiting just inside the U.S. border to be let in.

October 1, 1962

A border guard checks passes of Mexicans entering the United States near Nogales, Mexico.
A border guard checks passes of Mexicans entering the United States near Nogales, Mexico.

1967

Mexican workers crossing the border into Texas have their papers checked.
Mexican workers crossing the border into Texas have their papers checked.

Sept. 22 1984

Suspected undocumented immigrants cross into the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico.
Suspected undocumented immigrants cross into the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico.

1990

Men look across to the other side of the Tijuana border.
Men look across to the other side of the Tijuana border.

1990

Woman walking along the America-Mexico border, near Tijuana.
Woman walking along the America-Mexico border, near Tijuana.

1993

U.S. Customs agents patrolling the border.
U.S. Customs agents patrolling the border.

1994

At first light, undocumented immigrants wait to cross over into the United States.
At first light, undocumented immigrants wait to cross over into the United States.

1994

Undocumented immigrants wait on the other side of Mexico.
Undocumented immigrants wait on the other side of Mexico.

Aug. 19, 1997

Esther Pereyra Rubalcaba (left) kisses her daughter Patricia through the wall separating the US and Min Tijuana, Mexico.
Esther Pereyra Rubalcaba (left) kisses her daughter Patricia through the wall separating the US and Min Tijuana, Mexico.

July 20, 2005

Migrant activists lean against the border fence to pay homage to undocumented immigrants who died crossing over.
Migrant activists lean against the border fence to pay homage to undocumented immigrants who died crossing over.

Aug. 28, 2005

Young Mexican nationals peer through the border wall at the beach along San Ysidro, California.
Young Mexican nationals peer through the border wall at the beach along San Ysidro, California.

June 6, 2015

Paper doves in the shape of a heart are seen at the border fence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Paper doves in the shape of a heart are seen at the border fence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Sept. 25, 2016

Maria Rodriguez Torres, 70, looks towards her departing grandchildren after seeing them for the first time at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tijuana, Mexico. She had traveled with family members from Mexico City to see her grandchildren through the fence at "Friendship Park."
Maria Rodriguez Torres, 70, looks towards her departing grandchildren after seeing them for the first time at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tijuana, Mexico. She had traveled with family members from Mexico City to see her grandchildren through the fence at "Friendship Park."

Oct. 6, 2016

A burnt car is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, Mexico.
A burnt car is seen next to a section of the wall separating Mexico and the United States in Tijuana, Mexico.

Feb. 4, 2017

A visitor stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friends of Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California.
A visitor stands next to the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friends of Friendship Park in San Ysidro, California.

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