With images of crying children, chain-link fencing and plastic shelters dominating the news cycle, Republican governors distanced themselves Monday from the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy and the family separations resulting from it.
Blue-state Republican governors led the way, attempting to escape the political blast radius after several media outlets reported on the scene at the Casa Padre detention center – which is housing thousands of undocumented children – and the announcement of a new “tent city” near El Paso, Texas.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker made the most aggressive move, rescinding his offer to send National Guard helicopters and personnel to the Southwestern border, citing “inhumane treatment of children” as the reason for his decision. Baker had previously pledged a UH-72 Lakota helicopter and two military analysts to the border that were set to be deployed at the end of the month.
He was followed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who issued a statement saying, “Immigration enforcement efforts should focus on criminals, not separating innocent children from their families.”
In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner made an even clearer break with the White House.
“Governor Rauner does not support this policy. He believes we need to secure our border and end illegal immigration,” spokeswoman Rachel Bold said. “But separating children from their parents is bad policy and heartbreaking. We can and should do better as a nation.”
In April, Rauner had said he would send Illinois National Guard troops to the border, if asked. The governor’s office did not respond to a question if Rauner would follow Baker in reversing that decision.
Rauner’s response came after his November challenger, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, posted an article on Medium decrying the policy, asking: “Who are we as Americans?”
“It is the responsibility of every single one of us now, descendants of immigrants and keepers of American values, to speak out. That includes the governor of our state,” wrote Pritzker. “I’m calling on Bruce Rauner to stand with bipartisan leaders in Illinois to fight against this horrific policy. This is a time for leadership and a moment for all of us who seek to serve the public to truly serve.”
Pritzker was one of many Democratic challengers hammering GOP governors Monday over the administration’s policy. In Florida, a state Trump carried in 2016, Democratic candidates for governor spent the day ripping the White House – and Gov. Rick Scott, a close Trump ally.
“Governor Scott and I were both lucky enough to spend Father’s Day with our kids yesterday. Unfortunately, thousands of families were not able to do the same, and I demand Governor Scott issue an executive order banning the use of any state resources that would assist in the separation of children from their parents,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, in a statement. “If Governor Scott fails to do so, I promise that I will, because as long as the Trump Administration is in power, they are a threat to immigrants and their children.”
Scott, who is running for Senate, responded by issuing a statement that signaled a departure from his standard support for the administration.
“Let me be clear – I do not favor separating families. Washington is to blame for this by being all talk and no action, and the solution is to secure the border. Anyone seeking to enter our country illegally needs to be sent back, with the exception of those who are truly seeking asylum from an oppressive regime," Scott wrote.
In Arizona, another Trump state where Gov. Doug Ducey launched his reelection campaign on Monday, the Republican called the separation of children from their parents a “bad idea.”
"I don’t want to see children separated from their parents and my heart really breaks for these families. At the same time, I think we need to look at the role of parental responsibility when an adult is approaching our border, conducting illegal activity with a child," Ducey told Arizona Public Media.
“Washington has failed again & again to deliver needed immigration reform – Congress and the administration must step up and work together to fix our broken system. Immigration enforcement efforts should focus on criminals, not separating innocent children from their families.”
Most Republican governors, however, maintained a low profile on the issue – by remaining silent or declining to make statements.
The president himself remained defiant Monday, falsely asserting that the family separation policy is a result of existing laws or the fault of Democrats, rather than his own administration’s practices.
“It is the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration. Change the laws!”
Marc Caputo, Lauren Dezenski, and Natasha Korecki contributed to this report.
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