Washington • Facing the unending imagery of children being ripped from their parents’ arms at the U.S.-Mexico border, Congress may pass some form of immigration legislation in the coming week that would seek to halt separations and protect young immigrants brought to America as children.
President Donald Trump is set to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday as the majority party plans to bring up two bills, one of which would allow so-called Dreamers to eventually gain citizenship and allow those seeking asylum at the southern border to be kept with their families.
“The whole zero tolerance [policy] doesn’t make sense,” Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said in a conference call Monday. “If they’re seeking asylum, there’s no reason these people should be separated from their family. It does not make any sense, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
Some 2,000 children have been taken from their parents at the border in recent months. Trump has blamed Democrats for the separations, though it’s largely part of the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach at the border that all people without documentation are taken into custody and charged with a crime. The White House has used a 1997 legal agreement and a decade-old human trafficking bill to justify the separation of families.
The Mormon church on Monday issued a strongly worded statement condemning the splitting of families as harmful, “especially to small children.”
Gov. Gary Herbert issued his own statement demanding a fix, calling the enforcement actions “cruel” and “inhumane.” He urged Utah’s congressional members to jump into action.
Critics have accused the Trump administration of using the family separations as a bargaining chip to get more funding for a border wall — which Trump promised he would build if elected — and Attorney General Jeff Sessions essentially confirmed that Monday.
“President Trump has said this cannot continue,” Sessions told the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in New Orleans. “We do not want to separate parents from their children. If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices.”
Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for a “law” that is forcing Border Patrol agents to separate adults from their children, though no such law exists and Republicans control the White House and both branches of Congress.
Senate Democrats have all signed onto a bill that would cease any further separations, though no Republicans are sponsoring the legislation.
“The United States must not be a country that traumatizes young children by separating them from their parents,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “Young children have been taken from their parents’ arms, and federal law enforcement hasn’t given parents even the most basic information about their children’s whereabouts.”
Congress, Feinstein said, has a “moral obligation” to act.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Monday that he agrees with Trump that the policy of separating families is “wrong” — Trump said Friday that he hated it — and that there’s hope for a legislative fix.
“I am working with colleagues in both chambers on a path forward that recognizes the need for compassion for children and families without incentivizing illegal border crossings,” Hatch said. “That solution can and should be bipartisan.”
Later, Hatch expanded his comments, saying the president could stop the separations on his own.
Mitt Romney, the former GOP presidential candidate who is running for the Republican nomination to replace Hatch, also endorsed a change in policy.
At a campaign event at Veterans Memorial Park in West Jordan, Romney called the splitting of families a “humanitarian crisis that is heartbreaking.”
“I know that the politicians in Washington, many of them are looking to find fault. I’d like to find answers instead,” the former Massachusetts governor told the crowd of about 100. “I think immediately we should go back to a setting where we’re not ripping children away from their parents, and then we expect Congress to take whatever action is necessary to fix this on a permanent basis ”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said there has to be something done to end the current actions, but didn’t offer specifics other than to say he’s working on a possible solution.
“The policy of catch-and-release was not the answer,” Stewart tweeted. “This administration’s policy of zero-tolerance certainly is not the answer. In the coming days, I will be working toward a bipartisan solution that keeps families together.”
Love’s Republican Utah colleague John Curtis, a freshman member, said Monday he was “extremely troubled” by the separations.
“I share Utahns’ frustration and am committed to finding a solution,” Curtis said in a statement. “Although I recognize the need to enforce our nation’s immigration laws and to secure and protect our borders, I do not believe that separating families is consistent with who we are as a country — and it most certainly doesn’t reflect the Utah values I was elected to represent in Congress.”
Curtis said he’s “committed” to solving the issue.
Love, who pushed a procedural move with some fellow Republicans to press House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., into bringing up immigration reform bills, said the legislation they’ll consider isn’t a messaging bill as some critics have labeled it. It’s not her ideal bill, she added, but it’s a step.
She says Congress needs to put the language into law so that Trump — or any other president — can’t change how immigrants are treated at the border depending on how they feel at the moment.
She says she hopes Republicans and Democrats can work together to fix the problem.
This is not a right or a left issue,” she said. “This is right or wrong.”
Tribune reporter Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.