Republican Rep. John Carter made the comment at a hearing about US immigration and border agencies in an exchange with fellow Texas Republican Rep. John Culberson and officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
"Believe me, a lot of the attractive children are not making it to the border," Carter said as an aside. There was a brief pause before the conversation moved on to another line of questioning.
Culberson had been asking a series of questions about asylum laws and other laws designed to protect families and children when they make it to the US and await decisions about whether they can stay.
Culberson and Carter agreed changes to the law were necessary to cut off what Culberson called a "magnet" for Central Americans, who risk their lives to try to reach the US border.
"The congressman was referring to the fact that it's a sad reality that unaccompanied children are subject to kidnapping, sexual violence, physical abuse, human trafficking and even death at the hands of human smugglers and ruthless cartels during their journey to cross over the southern border," Carter's spokeswoman Emily Taylor said about the remark. "There is currently a loophole in the law that makes it useful for children to cross over the border alone so they can remain in the United States, and without the protection of their parents or other family members during their journey they are at even more of a risk to be exploited by the coyotes and cartel."
Migrants who attempt to cross into the US through Mexico almost always have to pay smugglers to make it, and the cartels that control the smuggling network often exploit the migrants on their journey. The journey carries the risk of assault and exploitation, as well as life-threatening conditions.
Administration officials have said they are seeking to cut down on the "pull factors" that encourage would-be immigrants to make the journey.