South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster discounted growing criticism over the Trump administration's border policy that has separated thousands of children from their migrant parents, saying there will be "harsh remedies" as the nation works to secure its borders.
“When someone breaks the law, they don’t take their children with them wherever they go,” McMaster said following a news conference Monday in North Charleston during which he took a phone call from President Donald Trump.
“If you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country,” the Republican governor said. “We want to be careful on who is admitted into the country, and that is the direction in which the president is taking us."
A South Carolina Army National Guard helicopter and nine-member team are in Texas supporting Trump’s efforts to keep undocumented immigrants from surging over the Mexican border. They left last month at McMaster's request.
The governor's stance came hours after his GOP counterpart in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, announced he was bringing back a National Guard helicopter from the border over what he called a “cruel and inhumane” policy.
McMaster is touting Trump's endorsement as he seeks his first full term in the South Carolina governor's office. His primary runoff opponent, John Warren, said he too would continue sending troops to the border to assist the president.
"President Trump is right," Warren said, adding that Democrats need to work with Trump to "stop the flow of illegal immigrants." He did not address specifically what he thought of the White House policy on separating children from detained migrants.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over six weeks in April and May after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime.
Republicans publicly criticizing the separations include former and current first ladies.
"This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," First Lady Laura Bush wrote in a guest column for The Washington Post on Sunday.
Republicans in South Carolina said they hope the disheartening situation spurs Congress to adopt immigration reforms.
"I think this is a terrible situation I’d like to fix," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who's worked on immigration reform for a decade, said in a CNN interview.
Similar to McMaster, Graham said children being separated from parents who commit crimes is nothing new, as jails are full of parents.
While he doesn't like the border separations, he said ending the zero-tolerance policy would encourage more undocumented immigrants to cross into the United States.
"I'm sure people will be less likely to bring their kids to America if they get separated than if they lived together and got released into the country. Our system is broken," he said. "Let's take this crisis and see if we can find something good for border security and ... stop separating families but also stop incentivizing people to bring their kids."
The House is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure with key proposals supported by the president. The White House has said Trump would sign either one.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said he plans on voting for both.
"As a father of four and a grandfather of 16, I don’t think any children should be taken away from their parents unless they are in danger," he said in a statement. "While families do need to be kept together, we also need much tougher border security. Although those two issues do not go hand in hand, I believe Congress can find the appropriate solution.”
Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, said the separations reinforce Trump's stances on undocumented immigrants.
"No one wants to see children separated from their parents, even if it's only temporary," Rice said in a statement. "The crisis at our southern border is the result of an immigration system that actually incentivizes illegal immigration. ... Congress needs to deliver on his longtime request to fix our broken immigration system."
All six of South Carolina's GOP congressmen are co-sponsors of the stricter proposal up for a vote. It's unclear if Rice or the state's other Republican congressmen would support the compromise. They did not respond for requests for comment Monday.
Rep. James Clyburn, the state's lone Democrat in Congress, said he will vote against both proposals, saying they fall "woefully short" of comprehensive reform.
“Taking innocent children from the arms of their mothers and fathers at the border is wrong," he said in a statement. "I strongly oppose the Trump Administration’s cruel and unjust family separation policy and call on them to end it immediately."
State Rep. Katie Arrington, who defeated Mark Sanford last week to be the First District's GOP nominee, criticized Congress as failing to "solve the problem of illegal immigration." Beyond calling the separations "heartbreaking," she did not say what she thought of the policy.
Her opponent in November, Democrat Joe Cunningham, was critical of the Trump administration's handling of the border situation.
"Children should not be used as bargaining chips in the immigration debate in DC," he said. "Ripping families apart and putting children in cages just to obtain some policy objective is cruel, inhumane and unAmerican. This White House policy must end and it must end today."
The Associated Press and Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this report.