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GOP Drafts Bill Overturning Policy of Separating Families at Border


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions from reporters following a closed-door GOP meeting on immigration, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2018. Ryan says compromise legislation is in the works on immigration that has an "actual chance at making law and solving this problem."

While people around the country hit the streets protesting separating children from their parents at the U.S. border, Republican House members are crafting an immigration bill that would end family separations, as the U.S. plans to reopen a tent shelter to house migrant children.

Drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, the legislation says children who cross the border with their parents can only be released back to their parents, even if that would mean putting the family in a detention facility.

Ryan said Thursday that he opposes the separation of undocumented immigrant families at U.S. borders.

"No, I am not" comfortable with it, he told reporters. "We don't want kids to be separated from their parents.​"​

Under the recently announced zero-tolerance policy of President Donald Trump's administration, children and parents who cross the border together are separated. That's because the adult is at least temporarily placed in a detention facility, while current law says children have to be placed in the "least restrictive" setting.

The zero-tolerance policy was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a point during his speech at the Western Conservative Summit, June 8, 2018, in Denver.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a point during his speech at the Western Conservative Summit, June 8, 2018, in Denver.

On Thursday, Sessions defended the policy during a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

"Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution," Sessions said. "However, we're not sending children to jail. And law requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed within the custody of HHS within 72 hours, something entirely different than the criminal justice system."

HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe said at least 360 children will be moved to the Tornillo site near El Paso, Texas, in the coming days.

When asked if the children would be housed in tents in an area where summer temperatures routinely hit 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit), Wolfe would only say that the facility would have "soft-sided structures."

Earlier, in an email to VOA, the official from the Administration for Children and Families at HHS said Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas; Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas; and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, are also being evaluated to build tent cities at military posts.

The policy has become a political flashpoint, with some Republicans trying to distance themselves from it. But Senate Democrats are frustrated that no Republicans have joined in to support keeping families together.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was a lot more harsh in her assessment. She called the separation policy "barbaric," adding, "It has to stop."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, speaks to reporters after staging a eight-hour filibuster, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2018. Pelosi was attempting to force a House vote on protections for the "Dreamer" immigrants.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, speaks to reporters after staging a eight-hour filibuster, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 7, 2018. Pelosi was attempting to force a House vote on protections for the "Dreamer" immigrants.

Later Thursday, the White House vehemently defended its policy, even insisting that enforcing the law is "very biblical."

When asked about Session's remarks that there was justification for the policy in the Bible, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I'm not aware of the attorney general's comments or what he would be referencing. I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible."

Sanders refused to elaborate. She also refused to answer a reporter who asked, "Don't you have any empathy? Come on Sarah, you're a parent, don't you have any empathy for what these people are going through?"

Instead, she blamed Democrats for failing to pass laws to solve the immigration crisis, even though Republicans hold the majorities of the House and Senate.

The House is scheduled to vote next week on two competing immigration measures.

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