More Republicans and Republican-aligned group are abandoning the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. Whether the president will change his mind is another matter, but for many Americans he has gone too far.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has rarely broken with the White House, put out a statement Tuesday. “I oppose the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents. This is counter to our values, Portman said. “We can have strong border security without separating families at the border. They can be kept together and dealt with as a family unit.” He repudiated the notion that only Congress can fix this. (“The administration should change course immediately and use its executive authority to keep families together and expedite their cases. If those changes aren’t made, Congress should act quickly on a legislative solution to fix this problem. I’m working with my colleagues to develop a compassionate solution that upholds our immigration laws and keeps families together while their cases are being processed.”) I’d suggest Congress speed up its alternative, because Trump is digging in.
Sens. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) joined in the chorus of criticism. Even conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, a dogged supporter of the president, hasn’t got the stomach to run interference on this one. He warned that the policy could become “the Republicans’ new Katrina and the president’s new Katrina.” (Unfortunately, Hewitt’s recent guest Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a father of two, remains a maniacal partisan, showing no empathy and pretending Trump’s hands are tied.)
Most surprising may have been the criticism (albeit without mention of Trump) from an evangelical Christian apologist for the president: Franklin Graham. “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit,” he said. Now even the Faith and Freedom Coalition, one of Trump’s loudest cheerleaders, has weighed in ever so gently: “The separation of families illegally crossing the border is heartbreaking and tragic, part of the larger tragedy of a broken immigration system that does not reflect our values or our faith. We urge Congress to act now to end the separation of children from parents at the border, reunite families legally entering the country, and secure the border.” (Alas, Concerned Women for America, a grass-roots group that says it “protects and promotes Biblical values and Constitutional principles through prayer, education, and advocacy,” is silent on the topic on its website.)
Business leaders, already upset with Trump over tariffs, have also spoken out. The Business Roundtable put out a statement that “urges the Administration to end immediately the policy of separating accompanied minors from their parents. This practice is cruel and contrary to American values.” The group also backed a legislative fix for the “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.
The American Bar Association, which avoids political issues whenever possible, blasted the policy as well. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the ABA’s president flatly rebuked his claim that the law requires the administration to carry out this policy, and declared, “The systemic practice of separating parents and children is antithetical to our values as a country, appears to violate longstanding precedent protecting rights to family integrity, burdens the federal criminal justice and immigration adjudication systems, and increases costs to the government. We urge you to rescind the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and refrain from criminally prosecuting those who are seeking asylum in the United States.”
Finally, a bipartisan group of 75 former U.S. attorneys also vilified the policy. They explain this is a departure from the policy of previous administrations:
The Department of Justice has [before now] worked to ensure that families apprehended while attempting to enter the country illegally are treated with compassion, are detained together whenever possible, receive expedited deportation, are allowed to remain together pending an asylum determination, and are always reunited. Now, under your policy, because children cannot accompany their arrested parents to an adult criminal detention center, these children, apparently including infants and toddlers, are routinely separated from their parents. Under the auspices of the Department of Health and Human Services, the parent-less children — who often do not speak English — are transferred to and detained at a tent city, a refashioned Wal-Mart, or other detention facilities in cities like Chicago, thousands of miles away from their parents.
The law does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances. Collectively, as former United States Attorneys, we have prosecuted tens of thousands of cases involving far more serious crimes than misdemeanor illegal entry offenses. And even in those far more serious cases, decisions involving the separation of children from their parents were made with extraordinary caution, and only after an evaluation of the specific circumstances of a particular case. Today, by contrast, your Zero Tolerance policy has produced a tragic and unsustainable result, without taking into account each family’s specific circumstances. Under your policy, families and children are greeted with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States, instead of with relief or asylum in the greatest country in the world. Until now, no Republican or Democratic administration, nor any prior Attorney General, has endangered children in order to deter illegal entry.
Trump and his true-believer (or cynical, if you prefer) anti-immigrant marionettes are alone on this one. The dead-enders lacking simple human decency and committed to wringing out the last vote from their anti-immigrant base won’t relent. However, they are not America. Americans think that what these people are doing is hateful, wrong and unnecessary. When the midterms come around, voters, we hope, remember those who lack simple decency and send a message that those people should not be in any office, in any level of government.