Dem leaders demand end to family separations at border

Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders on Friday pressed the Trump administration to end the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, warning the practice is “unnecessarily inflicting trauma” on innocent children while ignoring the roots of the problem. 

Behind Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the party leaders want administration officials to keep immigrant families intact during processing and focus more sharply on eradicating the cause of the migrations, which are frequently undertaken to flee violence in Central America. 


“This practice is antithetical not only to American values but to basic decency and humanity,” the Democrats wrote in a letter to Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of Homeland Security, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Joining Crowley on the letter were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), vice chairwoman of the caucus.

“It’s no secret why many seeking refuge are coming from countries in Central America — many nations in the region are undergoing significant challenges and problems with violence, corruption, and threats by dangerous gangs,” the Democrats wrote. “We should be doing more to address the root causes of these problems so that people don’t feel compelled to flee in the first place.”

The issue of family separations was thrust into the spotlight last month, when Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy promoting criminal charges against adults attempting to cross the border illegally, even for the first time. Parents traveling with children are separated from their children while the charges are processed — a policy designed to deter would-be migrants from making the trip.

The policy comes in response to a spike in illegal border crossings this year — the number more than tripled in April, versus last year — which has reportedly angered President Trump.

The underlying law was adopted in 1986, but past administrations have used it more leniently, reserving criminal detentions largely for repeat offenders in lieu of first-timers. The separated children are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Health and Human Services Department, while the accompanying adults are processed. More than 650 children were separated in one two-week stretch of May alone.

Trump and top administration officials have defended the shift, arguing that they’re simply enforcing the law as written. They’re blaming Democrats for championing legal “loopholes” that allow migrant families to game the system in the name of seeking asylum.  

“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border,” Trump tweeted last weekend.  

The family separations are a different issue than that of unaccompanied minors seeking to cross the border. But the problems have been conflated in recent weeks following the news that the administration was unsuccessful making contact with the sponsors of almost 1,500 unaccompanied minors living in the United States.

The Democratic leaders contend the policies have created an “anti-immigrant climate” that will only impair “the efforts of other federal agencies to engage meaningfully with immigrants,” particularly programs aimed at sheltering children.

“Indiscriminate, heavy-handed punishment of children will only evoke further problems for government agencies to address,” the lawmakers wrote Friday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also has the issue on her radar. On Thursday, she announced plans to introduce legislation barring the administration from separating migrant families at the border.

“It’s hard to conceive of a policy more horrific than intentionally separating children from their parents as a form of punishment,” she said.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Immigration Jeff Sessions Kirstjen Nielsen Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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