Huizenga, a Michigan Republican, joined Ryan and two other Democrats on a visit to Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, an organization providing room and board to some undocumented children.
After their visit with the children and employees, the lawmakers fielded questions from the press.
That’s when things got heated.
“This is state-sanctioned abuse on behalf of the United States,” said Ryan, who represents Ohio’s 13th District, said. “These are kids whose parents got killed jumping in front of bullets because they were going to take their child and put them into the sex trade.”
Ryan was referring to instances in the past where U.S. Health and Human Services officials have accidentally placed some immigrant children with human traffickers because they did not properly vet caregivers.
Huizenga, who had spoken to reporters earlier, went back to the podium to contest Ryan’s assertion.
“I’m a little disappointed in some of the rhetoric used already,” Huizenga said. “If we are going to make progress we have to lower the temperature and not use words like ‘state sponsored child abuse.’ That’s inappropriate.”
Ryan later defended his initial statement but sounded a note of personal admiration for Huizenga for working across party lines to reunite the immigrant families.
Huizenga recently introduced a bill, supported by many Democrats, that would compel federal officials to reunite undocumented immigrant families that have been separated.
“Let me just say because I have tremendous respect for Bill — and in nothing I said was directed toward him because he’s trying to find a solution — but I stand by what I said because I believe it’s the clearest articulation of what’s happening here,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to solve this problem, and I will work with him to try and solve it. But I think you can’t solve the problem until you’re very clear what the problem is.”
Huizenga later spoke more generally about the need for lawmakers in both parties to tone down the rhetoric surrounding immigration if they are to find any common policy ground.
“I think a lot of the rhetoric on all sides is not helpful to finding solutions,” Huizenga said. “I know there’s a real temptation in July during an election year to make it about politics, but I’m telling you it needs to be about policy for moving it forward.”