×

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as White House defends policy

  • White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gestures while speaking to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Thursday, June 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

  • House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions from reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. ap photo

  • People line up to protest U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and immigration reform at Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Ind. Thursday, June 14, 2018. (Mike Moore/The Journal-Gazette via AP) The Journal Gazette

  • FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2017, file photo, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speaks at a rally in Washington. Merkley, while trying to gain access to a federal facility housing immigrant children in Texas near the Mexico border and talk to a supervisor was turned away after police were summoned. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File) Manuel Balce Ceneta

  • Homeland Security buses enter the Federal Correctional facility in Victorville, Calif., on Friday, June 8, 2018. More than 1,600 people arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border, including parents who have been separated from their children, are being transferred to federal prisons, U.S. immigration authorities confirmed Thursday. They said they're running out of room at their own facilities amid President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration. There are 1,000 beds available in this prison. (James Quigg/The Daily Press via AP) James Quigg

  • FILE - In this May 3, 2018, file photo Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in Washington. Sessions is citing the Bible in defending the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents from the children after they enter the U.S. illegally. Sessions was responding to criticism from the archbishop of Galveston-Houston. Cardinal Daniel DiNardio had told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops separating babies from their mothers was immoral. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) Susan Walsh



Associated Press
Thursday, June 14, 2018

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

“I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “It’s a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had earlier cited the Bible in his defense of the border policy that has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents. Speaking Thursday in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Sessions pointed to a verse in the Book of Romans on obeying the laws of government, saying, “God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

The comments came as House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans said they were not comfortable with family separations, which spiked dramatically after the Justice Department adopted a policy in April of referring all illegal border crossers for prosecution.

“We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” Ryan said Thursday.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., tweeted Thursday that he told a constituent that, “I am asking the White House to keep families together as much as we can.”

In an unusually tense series of exchanges in the White House briefing room, Sanders blamed Democrats for the policy separating children from parents and wrongly insisted the administration had made no changes increasing the tactics’ use.

“The separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade, and the president is simply enforcing them,” she said.

Ryan and other GOP lawmakers said they are seeking to resolve the problem in a compromise immigration bill. A draft of that bill released Thursday would keep children with their families while they are in Homeland Security Department custody.

Ryan claimed Thursday that the family-separation policy is being dictated by a court ruling that prevents children who enter the country illegally from being held in custody for long periods.

But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back on that assessment, saying that President Donald Trump could “stop the practice on a dime.”

She called the Trump administration’s separation policy “barbaric,” adding: “It has to stop.”

The family separations are occurring as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for those entering the country illegally. Under the directive, families crossing the border are routinely referred for criminal prosecution. Previously, families were often sent to civil deportation proceedings, which allow children to remain with their parents.

During the criminal proceedings, the children are usually released to other family members or foster care.

Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., said he’s “heartbroken” by the separations and is working to find a solution to keep families together. His comments were in response to a letter from local officials urging him to demand that the Department of Homeland Security end the practice.

“As a father to two young girls it is unimaginable what these parents are suffering,” Yoder said.

With horror stories of babies and young children being taken from their mothers receiving heavy news coverage, the White House sought to shift the narrative by providing some media groups with a tour of a former Wal-Mart near the border in Texas that houses several hundred immigrant children.