GOP leaders can no longer afford to stay silent on child separations

Whose war?
Whose war?
Image: ACF/HHS / Handout via REUTERS
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In the past week, leading Republican figures have joined their Democratic colleagues in criticizing the Trump administration’s practice of separating the children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. It’s a sign that the tide may be turning against one of the administration’s most controversial policies to date.

In May 2018, US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced a new, “zero-tolerance” policy under which the Department of Homeland Security would be refer 100% of immigrants illegally crossing the border for criminal prosecution in federal court. Any minors traveling with them, no matter how young, would be taken into government custody. Since then, stories of anguished separations and children held in detention centers like Casa Padre have made national and international headlines. Sixty-six percent of US voters oppose the practice, according to Monday (June 18) poll from Quinnipiac University, although a majority of Republican voters (55%) are in favor of it.

The relentless coverage of children being ripped away from their parents—including the heartbreaking story of a Honduran man who killed himself in a Texas jail after being separated from his wife and child—seems to have prompted some prominent Republicans to condemn the policy. In the past few days, the likes of former first lady Laura Bush and Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins have spoken out against the policy. Meanwhile, the president’s own wife, Melania Trump, condemned the practice—while furthering Trump’s attempt to offload the blame onto Democrats.

Here are some of the most noteworthy Republicans to come out against the “zero-tolerance” policy so far:

Laura Bush

In an editorial for the Washington Post on Sunday (June 17), the former first lady wrote that “this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.” She also said that the images of  “warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso” were “eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II.”

Melania Trump

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on June 17. As the New York Times notes, “in laying responsibility for the situation on ‘both sides,’ Mrs. Trump effectively echoed her husband’s assertion that it was the result of a law written by Democrats”—although it was Trump himself who enacted the policy this spring.

Susan Collins

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, went on “Face The Nation” on Sunday (June 17) and said that the Trump administration’s policy is “traumatizing” children and “contrary to our values in this country.”

She and senator Jeff Flake of Arizona have sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar demanding more information about the new “zero-tolerance” policy.

Lindsey Graham

Senator Graham of South Carolina, a longtime Trump ally and golf partner, said on CNN on Friday (June 15), that “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call.” ”I’ll go tell him: If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell DHS, ‘Stop doing it.'”

Charlie Baker

The Republican governor of Massachusetts announced earlier Monday (June 18) that he had canceled the planned deployment of Massachusetts National Guard troops to the border because of the administration’s practice of separating children from their families. The deployment was initially planned in response to an April presidential proclamation calling on National Guard troops to assist in securing the border.

Ben Sasse

The Republican senator from Nebraska posted a statement on his Facebook page Monday morning (June 18) in which he said that “Family separation is wicked.” “It is harmful to kids and absolutely should NOT be the default U.S. policy,” he added. “Americans are better than this.”

Michael Hayden

Former Bush CIA director general Michael Hayden posted a picture of a Nazi concentration camp on his Twitter account on Saturday (June 16), writing, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”

Reverend Franklin Graham

Reverend Franklin Graham, a longtime Trump ally and evangelist, called the policy “disgraceful” on CBN News on June 14. “It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” he said.