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February 17, 2019

White House announces President Trump will only support ending ‘zero tolerance’ if Congress gets behind his immigration agenda

June 21, 2018
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced all his GOP colleagues are in favor of ending the widely reviled policy. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Congressional Republicans say they want to bring an end to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that’s ripping immigrant kids away from the parents, but it’s not happening anytime soon.

The President met with top Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday — and told them he’d only be in favor of ending the family-fractioning practice if Congress passes a number of his hard-line immigration proposals.

“In his remarks, he endorsed both House immigration bills that build the wall, close legal loopholes, cancel the visa lottery, curb chain migration and solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal,” administration spokesman Raj Shah said. “He told the members, ‘I’m with you 100%.’ ”

Shah’s statement indicates federal agents won’t stop separating undocumented families at the country’s southern border anytime soon, considering unanimous Democratic opposition to several of the listed proposals.

Democrats are likely to balk at the White House announcement, as they continue to accuse Trump of using immigrant kids as leverage in the heated immigration debate.

Before entering the meeting, Trump told reporters he’s committed to overhauling an immigration system he said “has been broken for many years.”

“We’re going to try and see if we can fix it,” he said.

Sources told CNN Trump only briefly addressed family separations during the sitdown, saying he understands the optics aren’t good and that his administration is working on correcting it.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced all his GOP colleagues are in favor of ending the widely reviled policy.

“I support and all of the senators of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined,” McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters during a press conference at the Capitol.

McConnell’s unusual — but toothless — rebuke of the administration came as Trump continued to falsely blame Democrats for the practice, which has resulted in more than 2,300 children being ripped from their parents, according to Homeland Security statistics.

The new policy, which was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, mandates all illegal entries be criminally prosecuted. Adults are thereby placed into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service while their children are admitted at detention centers operated by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The separations have sent Republicans scrambling to find a legislative fix, since Trump has refused to end the practice via executive action.

McConnell vowed to immediately reach out to Democrats and find a bipartisan solution. He demurred when asked if the family splitting policy will harm Republican candidates in the upcoming congressional midterms.

“It’s not going to tar anybody,” McConnell said. “We’re going to fix the problem.”

People who've been taken into custody at border sit in a cage at a facility in McAllen, Texas.
People who’ve been taken into custody at border sit in a cage at a facility in McAllen, Texas. (AP)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who’s spearheading Republican efforts to end zero tolerance, didn’t rule out reversing the practice with a standalone bill, putting him at odds with Trump.

“We consider this an urgent matter,” Cornyn said. “I think everybody has seen these terrible scenes of children being separated from their parents and wants to try to come up with a solution.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, a key Trump ally, introduced an emergency bill late Monday that would keep immigrant families together.

“Children belong with their families,” Cruz tweeted.

On a state level, Republicans have also publicly protested the Trump administration’s child separating practice.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday he would recall the four members of the National Guard he sent to the U.S.-Mexico border and wouldn’t deploy any more until zero tolerance has been rescinded.

Immigration enforcement “should focus on criminals, not separating innocent children from their families,” Hogan tweeted.

Congressional Democrats have unanimously rebuked the Trump administration over the policy, comparing it to Nazi tactics and drawing attention to heart-wrenching audio recordings and photos of children crying for their parents.

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler introduced a bill Tuesday co-signed by more than 190 of his Democratic colleagues that proposes to keep families together and limit prosecutions for asylum seekers caught entering the country illegally.

Despite bipartisan backlash, Trump has hinted he has no intentions to end zero tolerance, even though he could do it with a simple phone call.

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