As debate over a policy to separate children from their parents when families attempt to enter the country illegally consumes the nation, more Congressional Republicans are coming out against the policy.
Thousands of children have been separated from families in just six weeks from April to May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled out a zero-tolerance policy for people crossing the border. Previously, immigrants with children entering the country illegally were prosecuted only in limited circumstances.
“We do not want to separate parents from their children,” Session said on Monday, June 19. “If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices.”
President Donald Trump has stood by the policy, saying the United States “will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” Trump declared. “Not on my watch.” Trump also met with Republicans in the House to discuss his immigration proposals on Tuesday.
But the tide might be turning against the policy as even immigration hawks quake at images, audio and stories of wailing children who have been separated from their families and held in detention while their parents are prosecuted.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is working on a bill that would help alleviate the issues at the border by doubling the number of immigration judges to speed proceedings, increasing the number of temporary holding facilities and mandating that families are kept together.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz wrote in an announcement of his legislation. “This must stop. Now.”
Cruz’s bill also would set a 14-day period to hear asylum claims, which some critics of his bill have said is too short a time for applicants to gather the facts of their case and judges to give each claim the weight it deserves.
Meanwhile, a Democratic proposal from Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been rejected by Republicans because it casts too wide a net in prohibiting law enforcement from separating families within 100 miles of any port of entry to the United States — from El Paso, Texas, to Buffalo, New York.
The issue has for the past few days been batted between the Trump administration, which argues that it is only enforcing federal law, and Congress, which argues that it’s within the administration’s power to change the policy.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, has come out against the current policy.
“Sen. Isakson does not think we should separate children from their parents at the border, and he believes Congress and the administration should work to keep families together whenever possible while enforcing our laws and protecting the border,” said Isakson spokeswoman Marie Gordon. “Earlier this year, Sen. Isakson supported Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s immigration bill that would have overturned court decisions that require the separation of families while the parents are detained pending an immigration hearing. The bill also would have provided funding for border security and created a path to citizenship for those eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.”
Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, also signed on to the proposal from Grassley, called the Secure and Succeed Act. His office did not provide a position on the family separation policy by deadline.
At the state level, leaders are singing a different tune. Georgia’s two Republicans in the midst of a runoff for their party’s nomination for governor, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, steered far clear of criticizing the current policy.
Here are their respective statements in full:
Casey Cagle, speaking to media while in Gainesville on Tuesday:
“I think we have to secure the border. There’s a right way to come to the country and a wrong way to come to the country. Certainly, I think the rule of law has to be addressed, and I think President Trump is doing the very best he can regarding that. I believe fundamentally that we need to ensure that Congress acts in a judicious way, instead of sitting on their hands they need to move to address the issue of illegal immigration along with DACA. All of these things are important, so my plea to D.C. is to be diligent in solving this issue.
“I applaud everyone who is doing what they can to secure the border. I personally have stated that we are willing as a state to help with sending the National Guard to secure the border. Obviously, your heart goes out to individuals that are being separated, but you also question why individuals are putting themselves and their kids in harm’s way in trying to come into the country illegally.”
Brian Kemp, in a statement from spokesman Ryan Mahoney:
“Our borders are broken and America’s immigration system is in complete disarray. Fundamental reform is long overdue but all we get is lip service and empty promises from career politicians in Congress. I unapologetically stand with President Trump and support his efforts to secure the border, crush MS-13, and keep our families safe from criminal aliens. It’s time to address the problems created by the same Democrats who are grandstanding and playing partisan politics. We can fix the ‘world’s worst immigration laws’ without compromising our conservative values or undermining public safety.”