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WASHINGTON -- Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Sunday called for Congress to pass a law ending the Trump administration's practice of separating and detaining families trying to cross the border into the United States, but the two sides remain divided on what the legislation should look like.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and officials from the Department of Homeland Security have defended the practice of separately detaining children and parents who try to cross the border, which has led to about 2,000 children being separated from their parents in the past 45 days.

President Donald Trump's administration has received significant push-back from Democratic lawmakers, several of whom headed to the Texas border and inland detention centers on Sunday to draw attention to the issue and stump for bills they have filed in Congress -- which have failed to earn any Republican support.

Republican lawmakers also have registered frustration with the recent detentions, with some, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, questioning whether the number of children separated from parents "may well be higher" than reported.

"The secretary of homeland security said that if parents present at a legal port of entry with their children, with the claim of asylum, that their children would not be taken away -- yet there are numerous credible media accounts showing that is exactly what is happening," Collins said on CBS' Face the Nation, adding, "The administration needs to put an end to that, right off."

She rejected the administration's argument that it was preventing child trafficking, saying, "That is not what's going on."

"From the experience of previous administrations, it does not act as a deterrent to use children in this fashion," Collins said, stressing that the practice is "traumatizing" for the children, who are "innocent victims."

"It is inconsistent with our American values to separate these children from their parents unless there's evidence of abuse or another very good reason," she said.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Sessions announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with crimes but the parents are.

"There are other ways to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats. Using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent," said Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., said Trump "could pick up the phone and stop it today."

Even first lady Melania Trump, who has tended to stay out of contentious policy debates, waded into the issue. Her spokesman said that the first lady believes "we need to be a country that follows all laws" but also one "that governs with heart."

"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," spokesman Stephanie Grisham said.

Collins and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., sent a letter to the administration seeking more details about the program. But though she is critical of the Trump administration, Collins also took issue with a Democratic effort led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to end the family-separation tactics, calling it "too broad."

Instead, she said, the Senate should "try again" with a bipartisan immigration bill that fell short of the 60-vote procedural threshold earlier this year -- a vote that Collins suggested might have been successful had the Department of Homeland Security not "issued an inflammatory news release" the night before "that torpedoed the bill."

"We should not give up," Collins said. "We need to fix our immigration laws, and using children is not the answer."

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

Democrats in the House are expected to file a measure similar to Feinstein's this week, according to Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, who spoke Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. Neither effort is expected to garner Republican support.

But the House will be taking votes on two immigration bills whose fate is uncertain -- especially after Trump suggested Friday that he would not sign either one.

Trump's comments touched off confusion as White House officials swiftly attempted to walk back the remarks, saying he did support the GOP-led efforts, despite suggesting otherwise.

One of the Republican immigration bills, a hard-line effort led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is not expected to garner enough support to pass in the chamber.

The other, described as a compromise between the moderate and conservative factions of the GOP, fully funds the president's desired wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ends the diversity visa lottery and family-based immigration, and incorporates a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" whose parents brought them to the United States illegally as children.

The measure, which was drafted with White House input, would also stop the practice of family separation, but not the detentions, only for those families that arrive at the border seeking asylum.

Trump is expected to speak to House Republicans directly about immigration and other matters in a meeting Tuesday ahead of the planned Thursday votes. The president has been anything but conciliatory on the matter.

Trump has accused Democrats of promulgating "laws" that have caused family separation at the border -- though there are no laws mandating that children be taken away from any adult arriving at the border.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., appearing Sunday on CNN, noted that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had spoken about how the administration has "discretion" at the border -- concluding that "clearly this government, this president, is using his discretion" to separate families.

Trump has also criticized Democrats for their refusal to accept a bill that would fully fund the border wall and end family reunification visas.

Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., likened the president's demands to extortion.

"What the administration is doing is they're using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build their wall," Schiff said. "It's an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress. It's, I think, deeply unethical."

O'Rourke said Sunday that Congress would not pass an immigration bill "at the cost of ending family migration, which is the history of this country."

O'Rourke is one of several Democratic lawmakers who headed to the border and to detention centers this weekend to mark Father's Day with a public demonstration against the family-separation and child-detention policies.

"I hope to produce the outrage and the public pressure to force those in power to do the right thing," he said.

"This is inhumane. I'd like to say it's un-American, but it's happening right now in America," O'Rourke added. "We will be judged for what we do or what we fail to do now. This is not just on the Trump administration -- this is on all of us."

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday on Meet the Press that she "very forcefully" objected to the implication that Trump sought to use children as a bargaining chip. "I certainly don't want anybody to use these kids as leverage," she said.

The idea of a legislative solution earned the endorsement of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who said Sunday on Face the Nation that he thought Sessions was "not giving the president the best advice" on how to handle the situation.

But other Trump allies defended the policy.

"It's zero tolerance. I don't think you have to justify it," former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said Sunday on ABC's This Week.

U.S. religious leaders have castigated the policy. The Rev. Franklin Graham, who's typically a Trump ally, told the Christian Broadcasting Network that it's "disgraceful, it's terrible, to see families ripped apart, and I don't support that one bit." Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that "separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."

Information for this article was contributed by Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post, Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg News and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press.

A Section on 06/18/2018

Print Headline: Immigration rule draws ire of lawmakers; Family separations decried, but legislative fix elusive

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  • mozarky2
    June 18, 2018 at 4:21 a.m.

    The 1997 law that Bill Clinton signed says minor children who enter the United States illegally must be separated from their parents who are sent to jail because they crossed the border illegally. Because children cannot accompany their parents to jail, they are separated and sent elsewhere, either shelters or foster homes.
    Why is this all of a sudden now unacceptable?

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 18, 2018 at 7:50 a.m.

    Mozark..."Why is this all of a sudden now unacceptable?"
    Because no one against Trump wants to admit that he is enforcing a law passed by a former Democratic President. This is the way the media (as well as the Legislature) skews the information. It has been happening for years and will continue to happen. Those supporting Democrats say "We are not the party of X," and those supporting Republicans say "We are not the party of Y." When the parents commit a crime (including illegally crossing the border), the children should be separated. However, if they approach the border seeking asylum then they should not (no crime committed), and claims should be investigated.

  • hah406
    June 18, 2018 at 9:15 a.m.

    Moz, the law that you cite is a misdemeanor. Same as a traffic ticket. There is a concept under the law called prosecutorial discretion. The soulless AG Sessions and Trump have chosen to ignore that and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, same as the war on drugs, which is another failure. Should the law take away kids from every dad who gets a traffic ticket? It is identical. The fact is that this decision is immoral, and shows a complete lack of respect for families from the "pro-life, pro-family" party.

  • hah406
    June 18, 2018 at 9:54 a.m.

    I will add that when you have Laura Bush, your own wife Meliana, Franklin Graham, and Cardinal Dolan all calling you out for an unconscionable and immoral policy, you have definitely screwed something up.

  • DoubleBlind
    June 18, 2018 at 10:09 a.m.

    LRAC & moz, you’re are both FULL OF SHlT. The law addressing unaccompanied children was passed overwhelmingly in 2008 and signed by George W. Bush, A REPUBLITARD, while the restriction on detaining families is a result of federal litigation. Nothing from moz surprises me; he’s a proven POS. I’m a little surprised at you, LRAC. I didn’t consider you a confirmed bottomdweller until this. Good to know.

  • condoleezza
    June 18, 2018 at 10:21 a.m.

    mozarky2, you are a liar. There is n sucht "law." What you are referring to a class-action lawsuit that was initially brought against the Reagan administration, as Flores v. Meese, and settled under the Clinton administration in 1997, as Flores v. Reno. And it does not "require" that children be separated. Otherwise, what is happening today would have been going on for decades. What is more troubling, is that the head of homeland security claims it is not even happening, despite all the hard evidence.

  • condoleezza
    June 18, 2018 at 10:23 a.m.

    Also, Jesus loves you, mozarky2.

  • mrcharles
    June 18, 2018 at 10:38 a.m.

    The law of the creator of the universe says to take unruly children to the city gate and have them stoned to death. Some say the laws by the OT diety are the ultimate laws that mere mammals who have opposing thumbs and larger brains should obey under penalty of death by a loving deity, who is good cause he is good... quite the ontology. USA eats a lot shrimp and the "pig" so we are an ungodly nation as the right rev falwell and pat robertson said, so I guess that settles it.

    So if the right and their allies the evangelical who try to put into civil law all the time want to be consistent, lets agree that the immigration laws can be by passed due our lack of godly goodness. Then when the rapture comes and we got to fight dragons, things will be settled and just will be dealt out then.

    franklin is aginnn this policy, trump pardoned jack johnson, will miracles never end.

    for the deity system followers this is a little diddy that makes sense in both the here and now , and later if there is a later: your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that.

    The powers that be have an opportunity to be a good human, ..........or not , over this issue. With the moz and sea bass' of this new land defined by the Statute of liberty, the odds are at best 50-50.

    The book of Amos would be appropriate at this time for thinking of right action and whether we will be subject to a woe. Even a long haired leaping gnome pagan finds a lot of wisdom in Amos.

  • Packman
    June 18, 2018 at 10:47 a.m.

    The left is more unhinged than normal on enforcing current immigration laws. Their hysteria is absurd considering it happens ever day in America when adults with kids break the law. Why would immigration law be any different? As a point of fact, the Obama administration did it too.
    The answer, of course, is libs broken over Hillary's loss are desperate for reasons to hate President Donald Trump. In reality, they couldn't care less about the welfare of these kids. If they did care their outrage would be directed at the adults who placed those kids in incredible danger to travel to the border and knowingly violate American's immigration laws. There is NO instance of a LEGAL immigrant being separated from a child. ZERO!
    The good news is libs, as they tend to do, have gone over the top with their selective outrage. The American people understand why kids are separated from their parents when the parents break the law and work through the criminal justice system. The only person(s) to blame are the adults that made their kids accessories to lawlessness. End. Of. Discussion.
    Hey hah - Just curious, but do you have any more laws you believe we should selectively prosecute? As to those "calling out" the immoral policy, their words are hollow considering parents are separated from their kids every day in America as part of the criminal justice system. Literally thousands of kids in the US today are in foster care because momma and/or daddy are in jail. Where's Laura Bush been for these thousands of kids?

  • BirdDogsRock
    June 18, 2018 at 10:53 a.m.

    At least now all the world knows what Republicans mean when they boast about their "family values."