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Trump, GOP To Huddle As Outrage Builds Over Border Policy

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a U.S. Border Patrol agent watches as people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.
Associated Press
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a U.S. Border Patrol agent watches as people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.
Trump, GOP To Huddle As Outrage Builds Over Border Policy
Trump, GOP To Huddle As Outrage Builds Over Border Policy GUEST: Jean Guerrero, fronteras reporter, KPBS News

>>Our top story today the nation is in the throes of a moral dilemma that cuts across party lines. What to do to prevent thousands of children from being separated from their parents as they attempt to cross the border illegally. Democrats and Republicans are pushing for legislation to end the practice. A dozen members of Congress including Nancy Pelosi toward a micro shelter for children on Monday. And our reporter Jean Guerrero covered the visit she is with us now. These congressional members toward a migrant shelter in San Diego. These are full of children separated from their parents. What did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi say about the practice of separating families. >> Pelosi mention this is causing psychological damage to the children. >> Do they think these children deserve less than their children do in terms of care and love? This is not a immigration issue this is a him and to a humanitarian issue. It is about the children. >> She said the only way to stop this is for President Donald Trump to call on the Department of Homeland Security to stop the practice of family separation. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that he is not behind these family separations. However, they did start to happen in huge numbers after the zero-tolerance policy of the administration was announced which criminally prosecutes 100% of people who are caught crossing the border illegally including asylum-seekers who come across with their children. The result of that is hundreds and hundreds of children being separated from their parents at the boarder. >>> Congressman Juan Vargas was also on the tour and let the tour with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Here's what he had to say about the practice. >> The policies we have at the separation of children from parents is a moral, wrong, no matter what you say about it it is not biblical. >>> What are Democrats doing about ending the practice of separating families at the border? >> There is a Senate bill introduced by Dianne Feinstein and a house Democrat Bill introduced today called keep families together act. They do the same thing. Paper -- prohibit the department of homeland security separating children from parents are less you can be proved that the child is in danger with the parent of the parent or -- parental rights are revoked. They require border control to undergo annual Child Wofford training. It also mandates that homeland security develop procedures to reunite parents who are separated from the children. The house bill being introduced today by Gerald Mettler the ranking Democrat in House Judiciary Committee goes further than the Feinstein bill. A cause for the delay in the prosecution of immigrants who are seeking asylum. Because of the zero-tolerance policy which says 100% of people coming across our criminally prosecuted including asylum-seekers, this would create a delay in that criminal prosecution. It says that the asylum seeker cannot be arrested for prosecution until a negative finding on the asylum claim is made. >>> Senator Feinstein said she's got 48 Democratic senators in support of her legislation. She said in a statement that she has heard callous Republicans say they oppose children being taken away from parents. If that is true, she asked them to support the bill. But there is also a GOP bill. Tell us about that. >> The Republicans in the house has touted this bill as ending this up ration a family practice. There is no provision in the bill that would end family separation as we saw in the other bills that have support of the Democrats. What this bill would do is tighten asylum standards. It would make it easier for the government to detain and deport asylum-seekers. It would allow parents and children to be detained together presumably. It is unclear if it is still being drafted. >>> Meanwhile Christa Nielsen said the department of homeland security is not separating families who come to the port of entry seeking asylum. The evidence contradicts that. Why would she say that they are not doing it? Is he ill-informed? >> I don't know how to answer why she would say that. Inner press conference yesterday she was emphasizing that this is about the law. If you don't break the law you will not be separated from the child. If you present yourself to a port of entry you will not be separated from your child. The coverage I have done for KPBS, I followed several stories in which parents are separated from their children at the ports of entry. They asked for asylum at the ports of entry the way they are supposed to. They were separated anyway. The other issue is because of the capacity issues we are seeing at the ports of entry, asylum-seekers in many cases are desperate. They don't want to wait to get into the United States. They fear for their lives. They end up crossing illegally. It is a complicated situation. >>> What is being done to see that the children are reunited with their families? >> The bills I spoke about, one provision is they want homeland security to develop specific procedures that would facilitate the reunion between parents and children who were separated after the criminal prosecution is finished. After that whole case is finished. Currently, there are no procedures in place. What we see is because the parents cases get processed in different jurisdictions from the children's, the child may be granted asylum and the parents may not be granted asylum. They are sometimes deported. This can result in the permanent separation of families. A lot of these are asylum-seekers from very poor rural areas of Central America. To get to the United States, they spent whatever money they had. It is an incredible saga for them to try to get back to the United States and be reunited with their children. >>> Thank you for your reporting. That is Jean Guerrero KPBS reporter.

Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.

Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with House Republicans comes at a time when lawmakers in both parties are up in arms over the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the previous administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.

The fight is erupting at a time when the House was already embroiled in an election-year struggle over immigration legislation that threatens to hurt Republicans in November.

Democrats have seized on the family separation issue, swarming detention centers in Texas to highlight the policy. They are demanding that the administration act to keep migrant families together. Republicans are increasingly joining Democrats in that call.

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton called for an immediate end to the “ugly and inhumane practice,” adding, “It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process.” Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts said he is “against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.”

“The time is now for the White House to end the cruel, tragic separations of families,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement.

The Trump administration insists the family separations are required under the law.

At a White House briefing Monday, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared, “Congress alone can fix it.” That line has been echoed by others in the administration, including Trump himself, who has falsely blamed a law passed by Democrats for the “zero tolerance” approach to prosecutions of families crossing the border.

Two immigration bills under consideration in the House could address the separations, but the outlook for passage is dim. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s skeptical that even a full-throated endorsement from Trump will be enough to get the compromise bill through the House.

The compromise bill shifts away from the nation’s longtime preference for family immigration to a new system that prioritizes entry based on merits and skills. It beefs up border security, clamps down on illegal entries and reinforces other immigration laws.

To address the rise of families being separated at the border, the measure proposes keeping children in detention with their parents, undoing 2-decade-old rules that limit the time minors can be held in custody.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., another Freedom Caucus member, said he expects the GOP compromise bill to be defeated if it reaches the floor. “There’s not enough votes because it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

Faced with the prospect of gridlock in the House, senators appear willing to take matters into their own hands.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, said Senate Republicans are working on language to address the family separations that could receive a floor vote, potentially as part of a spending bill package.

“I don’t think the answer to family separation is to not enforce the law. I think the answer to family separation is: Don’t separate families while you’re enforcing the law,” Cornyn told reporters. “It’s all within our power, and people have to overcome their desire to preserve an issue to campaign on.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he wants to do away with a legal settlement that requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference.

GOP senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine also said they’ve been discussing family separation legislation.

Graham told reporters the measure would keep migrant families together, provide additional judges so detained families would face shorter waiting periods, and supply facilities for the families to stay. He said he did not know how much the proposal would cost.

The administration, meanwhile, is hoping to force Democrats to vote for the bills or bear some of the political cost in November’s midterm elections. Democrats brushed aside that pressure.

“As everyone who has looked at this agrees, this was done by the president, not Democrats. He can fix it tomorrow if he wants to, and if he doesn’t want to, he should own up to the fact that he’s doing it,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senate Democrats have rallied behind an immigration bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Her bill would prohibit the separation of migrant children from their parents, with exceptions for findings of child abuse or trafficking. If separations occur, Homeland Security would have to provide clear guidelines for how parents can contact their kids.

One House Republican in a swing district, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, said he’s willing to endorse the Feinstein bill if that’s what it takes.

“I reached out to Sen. Feinstein’s office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border. If that means introducing her bill in the House, I’d be honored to stand with her,” he said.