Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that he will support a stand-alone measure to detain illegal-immigrant families together, as outrage mounts over children being separated from their parents at the southern border.
The spike in family separations is a result of the Trump Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” policy, which aims to prosecute every individual who commits the misdemeanor of illegally crossing the border. McConnell said the entire Senate GOP caucus supports preventing family separations, and recommended that his party not include other proposals in the measure to avoid tangential skirmishes in Congress that would slow down efforts to fix the problem.
“My assumption is in order to fix this problem you can’t fix all the problems” with immigration policy, McConnell said.
Around 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the zero-tolerance policy’s April debut.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday cast doubt on whether Senate Democrats would support the Republican proposal.
“Let’s hope the president does the right thing and solves the problem, which he can do,” Schumer said. “It’s an excuse from our Republican colleagues who feel the heat, don’t want to attack the president, even though they know, they know legislation will take a very long time and is unlikely to happen, and the flick of a president’s pen could solve this tomorrow.”
McConnell, however, disagreed.
“We need to fix the problem and it requires a legislative solution,” he said.
President Trump addressed the problem on Tuesday as well, saying border security is the answer to stopping the country’s deepening backlog of immigration cases.
“I don’t want children taken away from parents,” Trump said. “We want a country with heart.” He went on to ask Congress to provide a “third option” to prevent families from being split up while parents are prosecuted.
Republican senator Orrin Hatch of Utah has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the practice, at least for now, and plans to ask Trump personally to take action against it.
“When it comes to families, I don’t want people tampering with these families,” Hatch said. “These kids, they should be with their parents and I’m very upset with what’s happening here.”
Senate majority whip John Cornyn said the fix could stand alone or be part of a spending bill already under consideration. Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will introduce his own bill that prohibits separating children from guardians unless the adults have committed more serious crimes.
“I don’t think we should have to choose between enforcing the law and keeping families together,” Cornyn remarked. “I think we can do both.”