WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump visited House Republicans Tuesday on Capitol Hill amid calls for the administration to end a “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to the forced separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeb Bush condemned the action and called for the administration to end it. Tech CEOs criticized the policy, while industry figures like Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and Steve Levitan turned their attention to the way that Fox News has covered the issue.
Congressional offices were getting numerous calls from constituents, and the pressure was reflected in the way that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to the situation.
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“I support, and all of the members of the Republican conference support, a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined,” he told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he hoped to reach out to Democrats to “make it a law” and “not just get into some kind of sparring back and forth that leads to no conclusion.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, said “there are so many obstacles to legislation, and when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense. … It’s an excuse.”
He declined to say whether Democrats would support a clean bill that narrowly addresses the issue, but doubted that the legislation would be that simple.
“How many times has immigration legislation passed in this Congress? How many times? Zero. It’s an excuse by Republican colleagues who feel the heat, don’t want to attack the president, even though they know legislation will take a very long time and is unlikely to happen.”
In a speech earlier on Tuesday, Trump said the “only solution” was for Congress to pass legislation to give the administration the “legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit.”
“I don’t want children taken away from parents,” Trump said. “And when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away. Now, we don’t have to prosecute them. But then we’re not prosecuting them for coming in illegally. That’s not good.”
The family separation was trigger by a “zero tolerance” policy, issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, in which the administration pursues the prosecution all of those who crossed the border illegally. That in turn led to border control officials separating families as adults waited to be processed through the courts.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) outlined a proposal that would mandate that families be kept together, provide for expedited review of asylum cases, and double the number of federal immigration judges. But Trump dismissed the idea of hiring more judges, telling the crowd at his speech that, “We don’t want judges; we want security on the border. We don’t want people coming in. We want them to come in through a legal process like everybody else that’s waiting to come into our country.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and 11 other Republican senators sent a letter to Sessions on Tuesday calling for him to “stop the separation of families pursuant to the Department’s zero tolerance policy while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally.”
“Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsibility of our federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency,” the senators wrote.
As he arrived at the Capitol, Trump told reporters, “It’s been broken for many years, the immigration system. It’s been a really bad, bad system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. We are going to try and see if we can fix it.”
White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement, “The president spoke to the House Republican conference on a range of issues. In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration, and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal. He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100%.’”