Monday, June 18, 2018
New York Times (Jun. 17, 2018): Leading Republicans Join Democrats in Pushing Trump to Halt Family Separations, by Peter Baker:
On Sunday, leading figures of both parties demanded that President Trump halt his administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the border, as the issue further polarized the already divisive immigration debate in Washington.
Republican lawmakers, the former first lady Laura Bush, a conservative newspaper and a onetime adviser to Mr. Trump joined Democrats in condemning family separations that have removed nearly 2,000 children from their parents in just six weeks. The administration argued that it was just enforcing the law, a false assertion that Mr. Trump has made repeatedly.
Even Melania Trump weighed in, saying she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together.” Mrs. Trump “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart,” the first lady’s office said in a statement.
The issue took on special resonance on Father’s Day as Democratic lawmakers visited detention facilities in Texas and New Jersey to protest the separations and the House prepared to take up immigration legislation this week. Pictures of children warehoused without their parents in facilities, including a converted Walmart store, have inflamed passions and put the administration on defense.
By laying responsibility for the situation on “both sides,” Mrs. Trump effectively echoed her husband’s assertion that it was the result of a law written by Democrats. In fact, the administration announced a “zero tolerance” approach this spring, leading to the separations.
Laura Bush, the last Republican first lady, spoke out forcefully against the practice on Sunday in a rare foray into domestic politics, comparing it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “I live in a border state,” she wrote in a guest column in The Washington Post. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, deplored separations on Sunday, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason. “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 on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”
Contrary to the president’s public statements, no law requires families to be separated at the border. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s “zero tolerance” announcement this spring that the government will prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals set up a situation in which children are removed when their parents are taken into federal custody.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, rejected responsibility for the separations in a series of tweets on Sunday. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she wrote. “Period.”
But there have been reports of people arriving at the ports of entry asking for asylum and being taken into custody, and some of the designated ports are not accepting asylum claims. In those cases, migrants sometimes cross wherever they can and, because it is not an official border station, are detained even though they are making a claim of asylum. Many would-be asylum applicants do not know where official ports of entry are.
Democrats are trying to focus attention on the separation policy as an example of what they call Mr. Trump’s extremist approach to immigration. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has collected 43 Democratic sponsors for legislation to limit family separations.
Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland led a group of Democratic lawmakers to a detention facility in Brownsville, Tex., on Sunday but were not allowed to talk with children held there. Seven House Democrats visited a detention facility in Elizabeth, N.J. and said they were blocked for nearly two hours before being allowed to see parents separated from their children.
Anthony Scaramucci, who served briefly as White House communications director last year, said separating children from their families is not “the Christian way” or “the American way,” and made clear he thinks Mr. Trump can end it on his own. “The President can reverse it and I hope he does,” he wrote on Twitter.
The conservative editorial page of The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, agreed on Sunday. “It’s not just that this looks terrible in the eyes of the world,” it wrote. “It is terrible.”
Mr. Trump has said in recent days that Democrats should agree to his panoply of immigration measures, including full financing for a border wall and revamping the system of legal entry to the country, in effect making clear that any legislation addressing family separation must also include his priorities.
A top adviser to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that the president was not using the family separation as leverage to force Democrats to come to the table on other policy disputes, rebutting an unnamed White House official quoted by The Washington Post.