WASHINGTON (AP) — A top White House adviser on Sunday distanced the Trump administration from responsibility for separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, even though the administration put in place and could easily end a policy that has led to a spike in cases of split and distraught families.
President Donald Trump has tried to blame Democrats, who hold no levers of power in the government, for a situation that has sparked fury and a national debate over the moral implications of his hard-line approach to immigration enforcement.
“Nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
The administration wants to send a message, said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican critic of the policy, “that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.”
Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation amid an election-season debate over an issue that helped vault the New York real estate mogul into the Oval Office in 2016. The House is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure that the White House has endorsed.
Conway rejected the idea that Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his long-promised border wall, even after Trump tweeted Saturday: “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”
She, too, put the onus on Democrats, saying if there are serious about overhauling the system, “they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”
Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: “The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”
To Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the administration is “using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build our wall. And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress.”
Schiff said the practice was “deeply unethical” and that Republicans’ refusal to criticize Trump represented a “sad degeneration” of the GOP, which he said had become “the party of lies.”
“There are other ways to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats. Using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent,” said Sen Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujon, D-N.M., said Trump “could pick up the phone and stop it today.”
FILE - In this March 6, 2018, file photo, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway attends a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Conway on Sunday distanced the Trump administration from responsibility for separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, even though the administration put in place and could easily end a policy that has led to a spike in cases of split and distraught families.