U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

UPDATED TUESDAY WITH IMMIGRATION LAWYERS' REMARKS

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s only Republican in Congress, Monday blamed court cases under six presidential administrations for the “heartbreaking” scene of children being taken from their parents at the U.S. border.

He said immigration legislation pending in the House includes provisions “ensuring that children are not separated from entering our country illegally.” He didn’t provide specifics.

Two national immigration groups disputed that, saying the proposed legislation wouldn’t affect the separations.

Walden issued his short written statement to the Malheur Enterprise as a national furor unfolded over images and reports of children being taken from parents and housed in compounds formed by chain link fences. The Trump administration since April has been executing a “zero tolerance” policy for those crossing into the U.S. illegally, moving to prosecute them criminally.

Walden in his statement didn’t specifically address that policy, enunciated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The separation of families arriving illegally to our country is yet another example of the need for reform in our immigration system,” he said. “Complications from court decisions tracing back through six presidential administrations have led to the heartbreaking situation we have watched unfold recently.”

The legislation he referred to is one Republican proposal that is expected to face a vote in the House this week -- the "Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018." Walden's staff said it would correct "current complications of court decisions that require children to be separated from their parents."

Walden's office wouldn’t identify the specific provision of the legislation that would do so. His staff also didn't respond to a question about whether he was co-sponsoring the reform legislation.

The legislation “would do nothing to address the family separation that is occurring right now,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington.

“The only way in which the bill would keep families together is by allowing for children to be kept in immigration detention with a parent who is not being criminally prosecuted but is in an immigration detention facility until their deportation hearing occurs,” she said.

She said it is the zero tolerance policy “that has resulted in this family separation, not existing laws or court settlements.”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association also disputed Walden's characterization of the pending legislation.

"This bill as currently written does not stop family separation," said Kate Voigt, the association's associate director of government relations, in a statement to the Enterprise on Tuesday. "The bill would be terrible for the children brought across the border by their parents. They could and would still be separated from the parents, they would have less protections than under current law, and they would be subjected to prolonged detention.”