EL PASO, United States, June 23, (Agencies): The fate of 2,300 children wrested from their parents at the US border with Mexico remained unclear Friday two days after Donald Trump ordered an end to migrant family separations, as the president accused Democrats of spinning “phony” tales of suffering for electoral gain. While the US leader bowed to global outrage over the splitting of families, conflicting messages were contributing to a sense of chaos in the handling of the crisis.
Government agencies were unable to say what would happen to the children already sent to tent camps and other facilities spread across the country while their parents were charged with immigration offenses. Having been forced into a climbdown on the hot-button issue of immigration, Trump swung back into fighting mode — insisting he remained committed to the “zero tolerance” policy that aims to deter the flow of migrants from Central America. “We must maintain a Strong Southern Border. We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections,” he tweeted.
In a possible indication of the scope of the crackdown the Trump administration envisions, Time magazine reported that the US Navy is preparing plans to build detention centers for tens of thousands of immigrants on remote bases in support of the “zero tolerance” policy. Trump also met at the White House with parents of victims killed by undocumented immigrants. The parents standing with Trump have been “permanently separated from their loved ones,” the president said, “because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.” Trump continued to make political hay out of the crisis, accusing Democrats of “playing games” and not supporting tougher border policies.
To fellow Republicans, his message was to “stop wasting their time on Immigration” until after the November midterm congressional elections. On Thursday, divided congressional Republicans failed to pass one immigration reform bill, and a second proposal that includes language ending family separations was put off until next week. While Melania Trump sought to demonstrate concern with a surprise visit to migrant children at the border on Thursday, the administration remained under siege amid continued accounts of parents unable to find their children and no system in place for reuniting them. Lawyers working to reunite families said they were struggling to navigate a labyrinthine process.
“It’s very difficult to reunite children with their parents because these government agencies were not prepared, and they’re not designed, for family separation,” said Efren Olivares, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project that represents 381 migrant parents. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump urged Republican lawmakers on Friday to drop their efforts to pass comprehensive immigration legislation until after the November elections, sending mixed signals to his party amid an ongoing crisis over his border policies.
Trump, faced with a public outcry over his policy that separated children from their migrant parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, has gone back and forth on ways to solve the country’s immigration problems, which he blames on Democrats. By seeking to keep that blame on the opposition party, he is hoping to galvanize support from his base for midterm elections that could swing the balance of power on Capitol Hill. “Elect more Republicans in November and we will pass the finest, fairest and most comprehensive Immigration Bills anywhere in the world,” Trump said on Twitter.
“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!” he said.
All 435 House seats and a third of the 100-member Senate will be up for grabs in November. Democrats are hoping discontent with Trump’s policies, including on immigration, will help them pick up the 23 seats needed to recapture a majority in the House.
Their task is more daunting in the Senate, where they need to pick up only two seats for a majority but are defending 26 seats to just nine held by Republicans. In related news, the Trump administration is calling for the expanded use of family detention for immigrant parents and children who are stopped along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move decried by advocates as a cruel and ineffective attempt to deter families from coming to the United States. Immigration authorities on Friday issued a notice that they may seek up to 15,000 beds to detain families.
The Justice Department has also asked a federal court in California to allow children to be detained longer and in facilities that don’t require state licensing while they await immigration court proceedings. “The current situation is untenable,” August Flentje, special counsel to the assistant attorney general, wrote in court filings seeking to change a longstanding court settlement that governs the detention of immigrant children. The more constrained the Homeland Security Department is in detaining families together during immigration proceedings, “the more likely it is that families will attempt illegal border crossing.”
The proposed expansion comes days after a public outcry moved the administration to cease the practice of separating children from their migrant parents on the border. More than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents since Homeland Security announced a plan in April to prosecute all immigrants caught on the border. In all, about 9,000 immigrants traveling in family groups have been caught on the border in each of the last three months, according to federal authorities. Immigrant advocates contend detention is no place for children and insist there are other alternatives to ensure they and their parents attend immigration court hearings, such as ankle bracelets or community-based programs.