Trump faces bipartisan pressure to halt family separations

US President Donald Trump has remained unusually silent over the issue of separating migrant families.
US President Donald Trump has remained unusually silent over the issue of separating migrant families.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Leading Republican and Democrat figures are pressuring US President Donald Trump to halt his administration's practice of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the borders as the issue further polarised the already divisive immigration debate in Washington.

Republican lawmakers and former first lady Laura Bush joined Democrats in condemning the family separations that have removed nearly 2,000 children from their parents in just six weeks.

The administration pushed back, arguing that it was just enforcing the law. Yesterday, President Trump again blamed the Democrats for the problem.

"Why don't the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world's worst immigration laws? Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?" he tweeted.

He also cited the immigration debate in Germany, saying the people "are turning against their leadership" for letting in millions of people. "We don't want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!" he added.

The issue took on special resonance on Father's Day on Sunday, as Democrat lawmakers made visits to detention facilities in Texas and New Jersey to protest against the family separations.

"Trump claims Democrats are to blame for families being broken up," said one of the Democrats, New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. "That is a lie. Republicans control every branch of government."

US First Lady Melania Trump weighed in, saying she "hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together".

She "believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart", a statement issued by her office said.

By laying responsibility for the situation on "both sides", Mrs Trump effectively echoed her husband's assertion that it was the result of a law written by Democrats.

In fact, the Trump administration announced a zero-tolerance approach in April, leading to the family separations.

Mrs Bush, the last Republican first lady, spoke out forcefully against the practice in a rare foray into domestic politics, comparing it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," she wrote in a column in The Washington Post on Sunday.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also deplored the family separations, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason.

The furore over the separation policy seemed to grow even as Mr Trump planned to meet House Republicans today in advance of voting on immigration legislation that has divided his party.

Two competing Bills are headed to the floor, a hard-line immigration measure and a compromise version crafted by the House Republican leadership.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'Trump faces bipartisan pressure to halt family separations'. Print Edition | Subscribe