Stewart, who is running against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), chairs the Board of Supervisors in Prince William, where a nonprofit Bristow shelter is holding some of the more than 2,000 children separated from their families by the Trump administration.
Migrants crossing the border illegally have only themselves to blame for being separated from their children, Stewart said.
“I think this problem at the end of the day is caused by people breaking the law, coming across the border illegally,” he said.
A group of about 65 activists calling themselves the Alliance for Family Reunification of Prince William County held a vigil Tuesday night outside the Youth for Tomorrow shelter.
Rhonda Reese, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said there were representatives from CASA, which supports immigrant rights; the Muslim Association of Virginia; Unitarian and Lutheran churches; and other faith groups.
“There’s a lot of us here who don’t agree on children being separated from their families regardless of your political affiliation, your faith community, whatever. Most people can agree this is not right,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “[Stewart] doesn’t speak for our organization.”
A decade before the Trump administration imposed a “zero tolerance” policy at the border, Stewart championed a crackdown on illegal immigration in Prince William, where he has won four countywide elections.
In recent statewide elections, voters in Prince William have backed Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam and Sen. Mark R. Warner. Hillary Clinton carried the county in her 2016 presidential run.
Kaine visited Youth for Tomorrow on June 22 and praised the facility as a “high-quality program,” where children appeared to be cared for appropriately.
At the same time, Kaine was critical of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security for not providing more information about children staying in Virginia and when they would be reunited with their families.
Stewart this week blamed liberals for exacerbating the problem of illegal immigration by not strictly enforcing the border.
He also said Kaine “bashed” the Bristow shelter, but he did not respond to requests to explain what he meant.
The protest Tuesday night coincided with a court-imposed deadline for children under the age of 5 to be reunited with their parents.
At the time of Kaine’s visit to the Bristow shelter, officials said it was caring for about 15 migrant girls ages 10 to 17. Shelter officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
A U.S. district judge has said all separated children — a group the government says numbers “under 3,000,” must be reunited with their parents by July 26.