Steve Benjamin: From the mayor’s office in Columbia to the main stage in Philadelphia (June 20, 2018 copy)

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin speaks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. File/J. Scott Applewhite/AP

COLUMBIA — Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin will lead a bipartisan delegation of mayors to the Mexican border to call for an end of what he termed the federal government's "inhumane" and "shameful" separation of migrant children from their families. 

"It's a tragedy that's happening here," he said. "If it were happening anywhere else in the world, we'd be determining here in the U.S. if we should send troops to enforce American values."

The group of 10 mayors from across the country, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo, will arrive at the U.S. border crossing in Tornillo, Texas, on Thursday morning. 

They've also asked the federal government's permission to visit with children being held in detention but haven't heard back, Benjamin said.

Over the past two months, the U.S. has separated at least 1,900 children from parents who were attempting to enter the country with their families illegally. The separations came in response to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session's call for a "zero tolerance" border policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for prosecution.

Benjamin is the latest S.C. politician to address the nationally contentious issue. Gov. Henry McMaster has already backed the Trump administration's work, saying Monday, "When someone breaks the law, they don’t take their children with them wherever they go."

McMaster last month sent a nine-member crew and an S.C. Army National Guard helicopter to Texas to bolster the federal effort cracking down on border crossings. 

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McMaster faces a primary runoff election Tuesday against businessman John Warren. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are stumping for McMaster in South Carolina in the coming days.

As for Benjamin, his visit to the border Thursday is his most high-profile dispute with the Trump administration early in his tenure as head of the national mayors group.

The group, which confers with U.S. lawmakers on issues affecting American cities, is bipartisan, but Benjamin, a Democrat, rarely hesitates to express his criticisms of Trump. 

"It's important that the tone of our discussion always be honest and frank and that we're finding ways to work together," Benjamin said. "But we're speaking about issues that affect the human condition and affect these children for the balance of their lives."

Last week, at its first annual meeting with Benjamin at the helm, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution opposed to family separation.

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.

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