White House faces growing outcry over migrant family policies

The Trump administration appears poised for a fight over its practice of separating migrant families who cross the border illegally as a growing number of lawmakers voice concerns over it.

Democrats and some Republicans have in recent days visited facilities used to house separated family members, leading to new questions about the process and growing calls for the so-called zero tolerance immigration enforcement policy to end.

GOP Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (Maine) wrote to the Homeland Security Department (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) Department on Saturday asking for clarity on the administration's practice of separating migrant families.

The letter cites multiple instances where families seeking asylum were separated, despite the administration's assurances that wasn't the case. The senators asked for details on when children are separated from their parents, what the purpose of doing so is, and how many children have been separated during the asylum claim process.

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"It is critical that Congress fully understands how our nation’s laws are being implemented on the ground, especially when the well-being of young children is at stake," the senators wrote.

Flake and Collins joined numerous congressional colleagues over the weekend in questioning or outright opposing the decision to separate migrant children from their parents. Democrats and Republicans have called the actions "inhumane," "abhorrent," and "inconsistent with our American values."

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage House gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender MORE enacted the new immigration-enforcement policy earlier this year, announcing that the Department of Justice would criminally prosecute all adults attempting to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S. As a result, families who crossed together would be separated in some cases, he said.

Around 2,000 children have been separated from their families over the past six weeks, according to reports

President TrumpDonald John TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' MORE, Sessions and other officials have defended the policy, saying it acts as a deterrent against illegal immigration.

Trump has blamed Democrats for the practice, despite the order coming from his own administration.

On Sunday, members of the White House acknowledged their distaste for the policy, even as the administration indicates it has no intention of unilaterally ending it.

“As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who’s got a conscience … I will tell you that nobody likes this policy,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayFederal guidance identifying 'go back to where you came from' as discrimination goes viral after Trump comments Kellyanne Conway says she meant 'no disrespect' with question about reporter's ethnicity Kellyanne Conway asks reporter 'what's your ethnicity' while defending Trump's 'go back' comments about minority lawmakers MORE said on NBC’s “Meet the Press."

“Congress passed the law that it is a crime to enter this country illegally. So if they don’t like that law, they should change it,” she added. 

First lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpTrump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Trump steps up attacks on 'Squad' after post-rally furor Trump says he doesn't care if attacks on 'Squad' hurt him politically MORE, who rarely weighs in on policy matters, also appeared to oppose the family separation policy, though she did not call on the administration to end it and put the blame on Democrats as well as Republicans.

"Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart," Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's communications director, said in a statement to The Hill.

Later on Sunday, DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer Four heated moments from House hearing on conditions at border facilities MORE mounted a defense of the administration's policies on Twitter, calling the actions of the media, activists and some members of Congress "irresponsible and unproductive."

"As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Nielsen tweeted. "You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry."

She added that families seeking asylum at the border will only be separated under certain circumstances, such as if the child is deemed to be in danger or if the parent has broken the law.

"We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period," Nielsen wrote.

Trump himself also weighed in on Sunday, urging Democrats to work with Republicans to find a solution to border security before they "lose" in the midterms in November.

While many lawmakers are questioning the policy, there seems to be little agreement on a legislative solution.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Ex-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday that he opposed the policy, urging Congress to draft legislation that would remedy the problem. At a press conference, Ryan told reporters he was uncomfortable with the growing number of migrant children being taken from their parents and detained in government-run facilities or foster care.

“This is because of a court ruling,” Ryan said. “We believe it should be addressed in immigration legislation. So what’s happening at the border with the separation of their parents and their children is because of a court ruling, and so that’s why I think legislation is necessary.”

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei MORE (D-Calif.) has led the charge on a Democratic proposal that would would only allow children to be separated from a parent if they are being abused, trafficked or if a court decides "it is in the best interests of the child."

That legislation has drawn little bipartisan support, however. Collins called the measure "far too broad."

"That's not to say that we shouldn't act to try to curb illegal immigration. We should, and I support the president's proposals for border security," Collins said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"We do need to strengthen our security at the border," she continued. "But we know from years of experience that we need to fix our immigration laws and that using children is not the answer."

The House is expected to vote this week on two Republican immigration proposals. One is a more conservative bill authored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute MORE (R-Va.), and the other is a more moderate measure proposed by centrist leaders.

It's unclear which proposal will earn more GOP support, but Democrats have already balked at the prospect of a legislative compromise on immigration reform.

"It's going to be very difficult to get a comprehensive immigration bill on an election year, on any year. So let's not tear these families apart in the meantime," Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: US 'not ready' to battle foreign election interference in 2020 This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing MORE (D-Calif.) said on "Meet the Press."

While Congress struggles to come to an agreement on immigration policy, many have noted that ending the separation policy doesn't require such an unlikely effort.

"This is clearly something that the administration can change," Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdJuan Williams: Trump fans the flames of white grievance Al Green says impeachment is 'only solution' to Trump's rhetoric Trump primary challenger Bill Weld responds to rally chants: 'We are in a fight for the soul of the GOP' MORE (R-Texas) told CNN.

"They don't need legislation to change it. They don't need Democrats in order to change it. This is a Department of Justice policy, and this is something that's being enacted by HHS."

Updated: 9:24 p.m.