Senate Republicans are racing to come up with a solution to stop the separation of parents from their children on the border with Mexico.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas is working to come up with a legislative fix for the Trump administration’s practice of splitting up families that cross the border illegally. Cornyn is leading a small group of Senate Republicans who recognize that Congress may have to step in and do something if President Donald Trump won’t back down.
“You can keep families intact and enforce the law,” Cornyn said. “The solution is up to us, and if Democrats don’t want to work with us to solve the problem, shame on them. But we think we can come up with a reasonable way to solve the problem of family separation that is humane and compassionate.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) separately plans to introduce a bill that would add 375 more federal immigration judges, allow more family shelters, mandate that families be kept together if there’s no threat of harm to children, and encourage resolving asylum cases within two weeks. It does not appear to have support from GOP leaders.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz said. “This must stop. Now. We can fix this.”
Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen both said on Monday that only Congress could change immigration policy and blamed lawmakers for dithering.
“Congress could fix this tomorrow,” Nielsen said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the administration did not want a narrow legislative solution, but instead wanted a comprehensive bill. But given the difficulties in crafting a large immigration bill, that might not work for congressional Republicans.
“There is a view that this will divert from everything else until we clarify” it, one Republican senator said. “A number of people have taken an interest in this, and I think [a solution] needs to happen.”
Cornyn said there were just a “handful” of other senators involved in the issue right now, and he is also in touch with the administration, an aide said. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) are also working on the proposal; Sasse blasted the Trump administration’s policies on Monday in a Facebook post.
“The administration’s decision to separate families is a new, discretionary choice,” Sasse said. “Anyone saying that their hands are tied or that the only conceivable way to fix the problem of catch-and-release is to rip families apart is flat wrong. The president should immediately end this family separation policy. And he should announce to the Congress the narrowest possible way” to pass a law fixing it.
There are no signs of bipartisan outreach, however. All 49 senators in the Democratic Caucus support a bill to end the policy, but Republicans say it’s too broad. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), however, said that she had received some inquiries from her centrist coalition from this winter’s failed attempt at immigration reform, with some members wondering whether they should get the gang back together.
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