Democrats expanded their campaign to spotlight the Trump Administration's forced separation of migrant children from their families at the US border, trying to compel a change of policy and gain political advantage five months before the mid-term elections.
Against a notable silence on the part of many Republicans who usually defend US President Donald Trump, Democratic lawmakers fanned out across the country, visiting a detention centre outside New York and heading to Texas to inspect facilities where children have been detained.
More than 2000 children have been removed from their parents over the past six weeks. Adults are being detained and prosecuted with their children sent to separate shelters. Previously, many illegal immigrants were allowed to remain at liberty while they awaited proceedings.
AP visited a facility where the US Border Patrol holds families. Inside the old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait away from their parents in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about were bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she didn't know because the child's aunt was somewhere else in the facility.
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More than 1100 people were inside the large, dark facility that's divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children.
In McAllen, Texas, where several Democratic lawmakers toured a facility, Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas estimated that he saw about 100 children younger than 6. "It was orderly, but it was far from what I would call humane," he said. Seven Democratic members of Congress visited the Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility in New Jersey, waiting nearly 90 minutes to view the facilities and visit five detained immigrants.
Trump has falsely blamed the separations on a law he said was written by Democrats. But the separations instead largely stem from the "zero-tolerance" policy announced with fanfare by Attorney-General Jeff Sessions. The White House also has interpreted a 1997 legal agreement and a 2008 bipartisan human trafficking bill as requiring the separation of families - a posture not taken by the George W. Bush or Obama administrations.
Trump remained silent on the issue yesterday. On Sunday he brought up the topic of "unaccompanied alien minors" in a broadside against Democrats who he said had created "glaring loopholes" that let in young members of the MS-13 international gang. "Democrats in Congress have opposed every measure that would close these immigration loopholes and bring this slaughter to an end," he said.
White House officials and allies yesterday dug in and defended the policy, insisting as Trump has that the Administration was following existing immigration law. "I don't think you have to justify it," former adviser Stephen Bannon told ABC. "We have a crisis on the southern border. They are criminals when they come across illegally." Adviser Kellyanne Conway answered critics' complaints by telling members of Congress to change measures "if they don't like that law".
Republicans are considering two measures, both of which give Trump much of what he has demanded, including billions for construction of a border wall. Democrats are pushing a bill by Senator Dianne Feinstein to immediately block family separations. No Republican has publicly supported that option. "It is critical that Congress fully understands how our nation's laws are being implemented on the ground, especially when the wellbeing of young children is at stake," Republican senators Susan Collins and Jeff Flake wrote to the secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
- Washington Post, Telegraph Group Ltd, AP