“Wicked,” “traumatizing,” and “inconsistent” are some of the words GOP lawmakers are using to describe the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
A small group of Republican lawmakers are criticizing a new policy that separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents at the border in April and May, and two GOP senators said Monday they’re working on a solution. President Donald Trump insists that families are being separated because of Democrats’ inaction on immigration reform, when in fact the separation is the result of a Justice Department policy.
Trump continued to falsely claim Monday that laws needed to be changed to end family separation at the border. The separation policy, however, is the result of a “zero tolerance” crackdown decision by the administration in which immigrants seeking asylum caught crossing the border are charged with a criminal offense, taken to adult jail and separated from their children.
Republican Senators Susan Collins from Maine, Jeff Flake from Arizona, Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse from Nebraska, and James Lankford from Oklahoma spoke out against the policy over the weekend and into Monday.
Collins and Flake wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Saturday demanding answers to questions about the mass family separation happening at the border. They want to know whether children are taken away from adults who are seeking asylum at border crossings, citing two recent media reports of such incidents.
Collins criticized the Trump administration for attempting to make family separation a deterrent to immigrants.
“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said Sunday on CBS. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”
Toomey echoed those concerns in an interview with Hugh Hewitt Monday. "It's not a sustainable situation,” he said. “And it is certainly, it's just not the right thing to be doing."
Speaking at a law enforcement conference Monday, Nielsen defended the administration saying, “We will not apologize.”
In addition to the handful of Republicans opposed to the policy, there is broad opposition among Democrats. Last week Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill that would only allow for children to be separated from their parents if the children were being neglected or abused. All 47 Democratic senators and two independents are cosponsors of the bill, but zero Republicans have announced their support, meaning the bill will likely fall short of the required 60 votes.
“At this time, Senator Lankford has no plans to co-sponsor Senator Feinstein's bill, although he is pursuing other policy solutions to this issue.,” D.J. Jordan, communications director for Lankford, said in an email.
Lankford is working with Sasse on some kind of solution, according to a long, harsh Facebook post Sasse published Monday calling for the family separation situation to be fixed immediately, unattached from any broader immigration bill. The Senate plans to debate two immigration reform bills this week, but neither of them address family separation.
“There are many senior folks in the administration who hate this policy, and who want to do something better,” he said. “But some in the administration have decided this cruel policy increases their legislative leverage. That is wrong. Americans do not take children hostage, period.”
Sasse said he would be working with Lankford on a “possible solution” to “this human tragedy at the border.” Sasse and Lankford did not respond to questions about their solution Monday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the number of votes needed to pass Sen. Feinstein's bill. It is 60, not 50.
Cover image: Immigrants wait to head to a nearby Catholic Charities relief center after being dropped off at a bus station shortly after release from detention through 'catch and release' immigration policy on June 17, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Loren ELLIOTT / AFP)