U.S. lawmakers of both political parties on Tuesday urged congressional action to halt the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a practice ordered by the Trump administration that has sparked a ferocious outcry on Capitol Hill.
“All members of the [Senate] Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters after a weekly caucus meeting.
“It is time for the Congress of the United States … to stop the separation of babies from their parents in our nation today,” Democratic Rep. Jim Hines of Connecticut said.
While the House of Representatives prepared to vote this week on competing Republican bills overhauling U.S. immigration laws and boosting border security, partisan Senate efforts to keep detained migrant families together came into sharper focus.
A Democratic bill would prohibit separating children from their parents at the border except in rare circumstances where a child’s safety is at risk, reversing one of the most contentious elements of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for unauthorized entry into the United States.
“We have an adjudication process that in the past did not require the separation of parents from their children,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said. “The Trump administration has decided, of its own will and volition, to take a crueler, more callous and indeed, more expensive and time-consuming approach.”
So far, the Keep Families Together Act has only Democratic co-sponsors. Senate Republicans have objected to language in the bill stating that “there is a presumption that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.” Republicans have argued that provision goes beyond keeping families together and would undermine President Trump’s broader initiative to prosecute illegal border crossers.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he will introduce legislation mandating that migrant families not be separated, while also doubling the number of federal immigration judges to speed prosecution of illegal border crossers and consideration of asylum claims.
“We can and should keep families together, keep children with their moms and dads,” Cruz said. “The challenge right now is the enormous delay in processing [undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers].”
McConnell indicated he hopes for bipartisan consensus.
“We hope to reach out to the Democrats and see if we can get a result, which means making a law and not just sparring back and forth,” the majority leader said.
Trump has repeatedly blamed congressional Democrats for his administration’s treatment of migrant families, accusing Democrats of stonewalling legislative efforts to fix America’s oft-criticized immigration system and pursuing “open border” policies.
“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country,” the president tweeted early Tuesday.
Democrats promptly returned fire.
“President Trump simply is not telling the truth, and in a cowardly way,” Schumer said. “Blaming others falsely is cheap, easy and dishonest, a cheap way out [that is] unbecoming of any president.”
Democrats note it was Trump who first endorsed, then rejected, a bipartisan immigration reform proposal earlier this year that included funding to boost U.S. border security and legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children.