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Child separations: Trump faces extreme backlash from public and his own party

Public reaction to the border policy is disquieting many Republicans facing midterm elections

Donald Trump heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon facing an extraordinary backlash from his own party and the American public over his policy of separating children from their parents at the southern US border.

The separations occur when, under a zero tolerance immigration policy, adults are arrested for crossing the border illegally. As children cannot be held in an adult jail, they are held separately.

According to a Quinnipiac University national poll, two in three voters oppose the separations. Outcry from Democratic and Republican politicians, former first ladies, churches, commentators and business leaders is gathering momentum.

The president, however, seems determined only to up the ante. On Tuesday morning he tweeted that Democrats want undocumented migrants to pour into and infest our country. In a lunchtime speech to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), he said the US had two options: Totally open borders or criminal prosecution for lawbreaking.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, asked: When does public opinion become a demand that politicians just cant ignore? Two-thirds of American voters oppose the family separation policy at our borders. Neither quotes from the Bible nor get-tough talk can soften the images of crying children nor reverse the pain so many Americans feel.

Trumps campaign was built around a tough stance on immigration, with build the wall a frequent chant at his rallies. He is now losing the battle for public opinion, though support among his base is resilient.

For example, Republicans support the zero tolerance policy at the border by 55% to 35%, the Quinnipiac survey found. And while national voters oppose building a wall on the border with Mexico by 58% to 39%, three in four Republicans back it.

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Why are families being separated at the southern US border? video explainer

One issue does cross the divide. Four in five voters support allowing undocumented migrants brought to the US as children, so-called Dreamers, to remain and apply for citizenship. According to the Quinnipiac poll, which questioned 905 voters nationwide from 14 to 17 June, support ranges from 61% to 28% among Republicans to 94% to 5% among Democrats.

Public reaction to the border policy according to the Department of Homeland Security, from 5 May to 9 June 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 adults is disquieting many Republicans facing midterm elections in November. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal warned the partys feuding over immigration is fast becoming an election-year nightmare. The conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt was quoted by the Axios website as saying this could be Trumps Katrina a reference to the 2005 hurricane that devastated both New Orleans and the reputation of George W Bush.

Trump, who could end the crisis with a phone call, was scheduled to meet House Republicans on Tuesday afternoon in what could turn into a heated confrontation in an already sweltering Washington. His homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, has insisted: Congress alone can fix it.

The president is offering no concessions. Democrats are the problem, he wrote on Twitter. They dont care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They cant win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

Quick guide

Why are families being separated at US border?

Why are children being separated from their families?

In April 2018, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced a zero tolerance policy under which anyone who crossed the border without legal status would be prosecuted by the justice department. This includes some, but not all, asylum seekers. Because children cant be held in adult detention facilities, they are being separated from their parents.

Immigrant advocacy groups, however, say hundreds of families have been separated since at least July 2017.

More than 200 child welfare groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Nations, said they opposed the practice.

What happens to the children?

They are supposed to enter the system for processing unaccompanied alien children, which exists primarily to serve children who voluntarily arrive at the border on their own. Unaccompanied alien children are placed in health department custody within 72 hours of being apprehended by border agents. They then wait in shelters for weeks or months at a time as the government searches for parents, relatives or family friends to place them with in the US.

This already overstretched system has been thrown into chaos by the new influx of children.

Can these children be reunited with their parents?

Immigration advocacy groups and attorneys have warned that there is not a clear system in place to reunite families. In one case, attorneys in Texas said they had been given a phone number to help parents locate their children, but it ended up being the number for animmigration enforcement tip line.

Advocates for children have said they do not know how to find parents, who are more likely to have important information about why the family is fleeing its home country. And if, for instance, a parent is deported, there is no clear way for them to ensure their child is deported with them.

What happened to families before?

When an influx of families and unaccompanied children fleeing Central America arrived at the border in 2014, Barack Obamas administration detained families.

This was harshly criticized and a federal court in 2015 stopped the government from holding families for months without explanation. Instead, they were released while they waited for their immigration cases to be heard in court. Not everyone shows up for those court dates, leading the Trump administration to condemn what it calls a catch and release program. ByAmanda Holpuch

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But where Republicans have previously followed Trumps lead, prompting comparisons to a cult, the emotive images and sounds of children in fenced cages are prompting a growing number to speak out.

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A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody by US border patrol agents near Mission, Texas, on 12 June, and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Fred Upton, a congressman from Michigan, urged an immediate end to the ugly and inhumane practice, adding: Its never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process. John McCain of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted: The administrations current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded. The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now.

Despite previously asserting that it would oppose any fix aimed solely at addressing the plight of children separated from their parents, the White House acknowledged on Tuesday that it is reviewing emergency legislation introduced by Ted Cruz, the hardline senator who faces a re-election fight in Texas, to keep families together.

Asked if the White House supports the Cruz measure, Mercedes Schlapp, the director of strategic communications, told reporters: Were looking into the legislative text on the Cruz bill.

Donald
Donald Trump hugs the US flag after his speech to NFIB conference. Photograph: NFIB

In his NFIB speech, however, Trump took a stand against Cruzs proposal, which would attempt to speed up the review of immigration cases by doubling the number of judges.

I dont want judges, the president said. I want border security. I dont want to try people. I dont want people coming in.

Other legislation is in the works in both the House and Senate, aiming to spare Republicans from a PR disaster. Democrats have been paying personal visits to detention centres in Texas and demanding the resignation of Nielsen.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told reporters on Tuesday that all of the Senators of the Republican conference support a plan that would allow children to stay with their parents in family detention centers, ending the current practice of separating families.

We need to fix the problem and it requires a legislative solution, McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference. The issue animated their weekly lunch and a consensus emerged that Congress must act, possibly as early as this week, leaders said.

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‘These children are not animals’: US house decries separation policy video

But Democratic leaders disagree, arguing that the president can halt this process with this flick of a pen.

You alone can fix this, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said to Trump, holding out his pen to emphasize how quickly the practice could be stopped. Pressed on why Democrats were reluctant to work with Republicans on legislation that addressed family separations, Schumer pointed to the Congress long history of inaction on immigration.

How many times has immigration legislation passed in this Congress? How many times? Zero, he said, adding that the measure is an excuse by our Republican colleagues who feel the heat.

There has been condemnation from religious leaders and from business. In Dublin, Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, told the Irish Times: Its heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids. Kids are the most vulnerable people in any society. I think that whats happening is inhumane, it needs to stop.

In Mexico, less than a fortnight away from a presidential election, politicians lined up to denounce the separations. Candidate Ricardo Anaya said the treatment of children recalled terrifying images of Nazis separating mothers from their children. His rival, Jos Antonio Meade, denounced an unacceptable horror.

In Mexico City, the foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, expressed his governments most categorical and energetic condemnation of the policy.

The majority of the children affected were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, he said, while only about 1% were Mexican. Even so, he said, Mexico had both a moral and a constitutional responsibility to push back against a cruel policy, an inhuman policy.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/19/child-separation-camps-trump-border-policy-backlash-republicans

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