U.S. President Donald Trump continues to try to blame Democrats, his political rivals, for actions that separate children from parents when families are caught illegally crossing the border with Mexico.
Taking to Twitter Friday, he blamed family breakups on the Democrats’ “cruel legislative agenda.”
Republicans hold the majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, and there is no law that requires the separation of parents and children. Rather, it is a policy established by the Trump administration. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings into the United States.
The president’s comments came as details of a so-called compromise House bill on immigration were leaked to the public.
Drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, the legislation says children who cross the border with their parents can only be released to their parents. Since adults who cross the border illegally are being routinely charged with criminal offenses, that means putting the family in a detention facility together.
Ryan said Thursday that he opposes the separation of undocumented immigrant families at U.S. borders.
“We believe it should be addressed in immigration legislation,” Ryan said. “What’s happening at the border with the separation of parents and their children is because of a court ruling. That’s why I think legislation is necessary.”
The bill also provides legal status for young people who were brought to the U.S. as children. Many of them are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy which granted them legal status and work permits. The bill would allow them to stay indefinitely with six-year renewals.
Additionally, the measure establishes a new merit-based visa program for DACA recipients and others to obtain citizenship.
To immigration advocates, the good news in the 300-page bill ends there. “Some Good Mixed with Much Bad — in GOP Immigration Deal,” wrote the libertarian Cato Institute’s David Bier in a blog post.
Bier cites cuts to legal immigration, a “very narrow” pathway to citizenship and making asylum “almost impossible” for border crossers. All of these make it impossible for Democrats to support the compromise bill.
“[The bill] is a pretense for doing something about the status of dreamers,” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Friday. “They knew that this bill would not pass the U.S. senate.”
The House is scheduled to vote next week on two competing immigration measures. One is a conservative bill, authored by Virginia congressman Bob Goodlatte. The other is the new compromise legislation.
Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters Friday that between April 19 and May 31, 1,995 children were separated from their parents or other adults they were traveling with.
On Thursday, Sessions defended the policy during a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution,” Sessions said. “However, we’re not sending children to jail. And the law requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed within the custody of DHS within 72 hours, something entirely different than the criminal justice system.”
HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe said at least 360 children will be moved to the Tornillo site near El Paso, Texas, in the coming days.
When asked if the children would be housed in tents in an area where summer temperatures routinely hit 37 degrees Celsius, Wolfe would only say that the facility would have “soft-sided structures.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was much harsher in her assessment. She called the separation policy “barbaric,” adding, “It has to stop.”
Later Thursday, the White House vehemently defended its policy, even maintaining that enforcing the law is “very biblical.”
When asked about Sessions’ remarks that there was justification for the policy in the Bible, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing. I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”
Sanders refused to elaborate. She also refused to answer a reporter who asked, “Don’t you have any empathy? Come on Sarah, you’re a parent, don’t you have any empathy for what these people are going through?”
Instead, she blamed Democrats for failing to pass laws to solve the immigration crisis.