President Trump ends family separation policy, Arkansas GOP delegation sought end to controversial treatment

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 874 views 

President Donald Trump on Wednesday (June 20) signed an executive order to end his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the nation’s southern border. It was a move hoped for by most of Arkansas’ all-GOP congressional delegation.

The delegation emerged from Republicans-only meetings with the President on Tuesday voicing varying levels of opposition against separating immigrant children from their parents.

Asked on Wednesday (June 30) by Talk Business & Politics where they stood on the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, three of Arkansas’ four House representatives expressed the need to end the expanding crisis after speaking directly with President Donald Trump at a closed-door Republican Caucus and White House meetings in the past two days. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, did not respond.

“The ‘zero tolerance’ policy is a heartbreaking manifestation of our country’s broken immigration enforcement system. While it is necessary to enforce immigration laws, I do not support a policy that results in the separation of children from their parents at the border,” U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers said in a statement. “Congress has the responsibility to develop long-term immigration legislation that encourages lawful behavior while strengthening and securing our country’s border. With thoughtful debate from both sides, I am confident Congress can fix our outdated and fractured immigration system.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, was the first Arkansas congressional lawmaker to come out against the White House policy as Trump’s chief lieutenants at the Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services departments defended the administration’s response to so-called “immigration loopholes” created by congressional inaction.

“Children should not be used as pawns under any circumstance. I urge enforcement officials to utilize family detention facilities where appropriate and only separate children from their families when there is clear and eminent danger to the child if they remain with the adults who transported them across the border,” Westerman said, adding that the nation’s customs and immigration laws must be enforced with the humane and ethical principles that make the country strong.

Although U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., wasn’t a part of the House Republican Caucus meeting on Tuesday, the state’s senior senator joined a group of 13 Republican senators that sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposing the zero tolerance policy.

“We support the administration’s efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical force separation of minor children from their parents,” the letter read. “We thereat ask you to work with the relevant administration officials to stop the separation of families pursuant to the (DOJ’s) zero tolerance policy while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally.” (Link here for a PDF copy of the letter.)

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, also provided statements Tuesday that focused on fixing the broken immigration system and ending “family separations,” but did not directly address the administration’s zero tolerance policy.

“I think that it’s very important that we protect our border. We cannot allow a child to be a get-out-of-jail-free card and a get-into-the-U.S.-free ticket,” Cotton said at the White House meeting with President Trump. “But at the same time, as you said, as we’ve all said, we’d like to keep families together, keep them together at the border for the orderly and timely processing of the adults’ immigration claim. If it’s a lawful, legitimate claim, we can admit the family into the country. If not, they’ll have to go back to their home country.

“I’m glad you’re looking for a solution for that,” Cotton said to the President. “I know that we in Congress are working on legislation that will allow our hardworking Border Patrol agents to keep families together at the border while we process their claims in a timely fashion,” Cotton told President Trump.

In similar comments, Hill said the U.S. immigration system “is broken and in need of fixing,” blaming the Bush and Obama administrations for one border crisis after another.

Hill and Cotton’s statements were consistent with tweets by President Trump and statements delivered Tuesday by Homeland Security Director Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in New Orleans. In her speech, Nielsen said the media and opponents of President Trump are spreading “a lot of misinformation about what DHS is and is not doing as it relates to families at the border.”

“First, this Administration did not create a policy of separating families at the border,” said Nielsen “We have a statutory responsibility that we take seriously to protect alien children from human smuggling, trafficking, and other criminal actions, while enforcing our immigration laws. We have a long existing policy – multiple administrations have followed – that outline when we may take action to protect children.”

The Homeland Security director also blamed Congress for several loopholes in the nation’s immigration laws that prevent illegal immigrant minors and family members from being detained and removed to their home countries.

Sessions, in his speech, said one of the reasons President Trump was elected as president was to “end lawlessness at the southern border.” He also said the number of aliens illegally crossing with children at ports of entry have seen a five-fold spike, from 14,000 to 75,000 – in the past four years.

“This cannot continue,” said Sessions. “We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, placing them at risk. But we do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn or claiming asylum at any port of entry.”

The response from Arkansas’ congressional delegaton comes amid mounting pressure from a myriad of outside groups to end the zero-tolerance policy, including churches and religious organizations, business leaders and corporations, civil rights and child welfare groups, and health care organizations.

In a letter yesterday to Sessions, Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen and Department of Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, American Medical Association CEO Dr. James Madera urged federal officials to withdraw its zero-tolerance policy after delegates from over 170 medical specialty groups across the U.S. adopted a stance to oppose the administration’s position.

“Families seeking refuge in the U.S. already endure emotional and physical stress, which is exacerbated when they are separated from one another,” Madera wrote. “Therefore, the AMA believes strongly that, in the absence of immediate physical or emotions threats to the child’s well-being, migrating children should not be separated from their parents or caregivers.”

Separately, HHS officials are expected to visit Little Rock Air Force Based on Thursday to determine if the facility can serve as one of the nation’s so-called “unaccompanied alien children” sites.

A month ago, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told Talk Business & Politics ahead of a White House visit to discuss immigration policy with President Trump he planned to breach the subject of possibly housing immigrant children at the base. In early May, Sessions had said publicly that federal officials were looking at housing children entering the U.S. illegally alone or with their parents at four military bases in Texas and Arkansas.

“Attorney General Sessions has that initiative and the Little Rock Air Force is on the list to be considered. I am anxious to hear more details on that and to get information …,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the administration’s way of making sure children are protected and properly taken care of, and hopefully curtail any misuse of that system as we have seen an increase in illegal movement across the border in the last couple of months.”

Clarke Tucker, Hill’s Democratic rival for the 2nd District congressional seat, opposes using the military base to separate migrant children from their families.

“The United States has long been the standard-bearer of democracy and freedom throughout the world, but sadly we are not living up to our core values right now,” said Tucker. “As a parent, I cannot fathom needlessly separating a child from their mother or father, and I cannot support using the Little Rock Air Force Base to implement this shameful policy.”