WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to end his administration’s controversial policy that separated children from parents of foreigners arrested at the border without proper documentation.
The policy had been widely condemned as inhumane and immoral by Democrats as well as some Republicans and religious leaders. Trump had insisted that he too hated the idea of separating children from their parents but said his hands were tied by law, which he blamed Democrats for refusing to fix.
Connecticut lawmakers have kept up a steady drumbeat of criticism of the policy and countered that Trump could immediately end the “humanitarian crisis” on his own.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, who has helped organize some of the Democrat protests, has described the policy as “cruel and immoral” and “nothing more than child abuse.”
Trump’s order does not end the zero-tolerance policy that treats all undocumented entries as criminal. Instead, the order would detain parents and children together. Those families would get preference when it comes to immigration proceedings in hopes of minimizing the length of detention.
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” Trump said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke on the Senate floor against Trump’s new executive order.
“Ending family separation would be a welcome and humane step, but the solution cannot be the immoral and unlawful detention and imprisonment of children,” he said. “Family separation cannot be replaced by family incarceration and imprisonment.”
Senator Chris Murphy cautioned that the executive order may not adequately resolve the issue, noting that it could leave children and their parents incarcerated for indefinite periods of time. “Let’s not get sucked into a moral vortex where something less than diabolically evil is somehow acceptable,” he posted on social media.
Later Murphy released a statement: “Locking up little kids in cages with their parents is less evil than locking up little kids alone in cages, so I guess I’m glad that the president took this step. But the new practice is still inhumane and arguably illegal, so no one should be celebrating today.”
Representative John Larson said in an interview that the policy – aimed, in part, to deter border crossings – is viscerally repugnant to people. While the overarching immigration issue may be confusing, they understand that families should be kept together.
“Any parent who has ever had the experience of being in the mall or movie theater and is separated from their child knows how they are absolutely seized with the horror and anxiety of that separation,” Larson said. “It is hard to even imagine someone being physically separated from them.”
At the White House, Trump may have shed some insight into why he struggled to reverse his border separation policy that had been publicly criticized by the likes of Pope Francis and former First Lady Laura Bush – and privately criticized by First Lady Melania Trump.
“If you’re really, really pathetically weak the country is going to be overrun with millions of people, and if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, House Republicans plan to vote Thursday on two separate immigration bills – one favored by conservatives and another by more moderate Republicans – that they claim would resolve the separation issue, provide strengthened border security and could allow so-called Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children – a pathway toward citizenship. The exact language of the bills that will reach the floor was still under negotiation among Republicans Wednesday.
It is unclear whether a majority would support either bill as few Democrats, if any, will vote for them.
Representative Jim Himes said Wednesday that Democrats have not been consulted and from what he has seen the legislation fails to provide an acceptable long-term solution to the child-separation policy or to provide permanent relief to so-called DREAMers.
“I don’t think you’ll see any Democrats support it,” he said.
Moreover, Himes said that Democrats are not happy with President Trump for creating a crisis as a negotiating tactic.
“We are not going to negotiate with somebody who just threw a bomb in the room and destroyed a lot of lives,” he said. “So, when he gets serious about finding a solution we will be there. I’d point to a couple of years ago when the Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. That’s what we need to do.”
Representative Elizabeth Esty said legislation has been drafted that has a good chance of passing the House but Republican leaders have refused to bring it to the floor for a vote. Democrats, she said, are willing to have a floor debate on different bills with up-or-down votes that would allow the most popular to advance to the Senate.
“Do not be afraid to bring these to the floor for an up or down vote. That is what our discharge position was about,” she said.
Instead, Republicans drafted two bills without Democrats having a voice. She said these GOP versions are “much worse than truly bipartisan agreements” and would include measures to drastically reduce legal immigration.
“This is no compromise. A compromise would actually be having both parties at the table which this is not,” she said.
In New Haven, there was an immigrant rights rally on the steps of First & Summerfield United Methodist Church, a sanctuary congregation across from the Green.
The rally originally was planned to protest the Trump administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy of separating parents from children when agents detain families at the border. In the hour before the rally, Trump announced, in the wake of bipartisan outrage, that he would order an end to that separation practice. The rally then became a call for a broader rollback of Trump’s deportation crackdown on undocumented immigrants, which doesn’t distinguish between immigrants who have committed crimes and everyone else.