U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday she opposes the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the Mexico border, but she stopped short of supporting a Democratic bill seeking to halt the practice.
Speaking on the CBS news show “Face the Nation,” the Maine Republican said the number of children who have been separated so far might exceed the nearly 2,000 cited last week by the Department of Homeland Security. Collins said she and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, have written to the administration to ask for more information about the separation policy.
Collins also called for the administration to immediately stop separating children from parents who enter the country seeking asylum at legal crossings, unless they are being abused or trafficked.
“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” Collins said. “That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.”
The Trump administration’s policy has been criticized widely since homeland security officials started referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution under a “zero tolerance” policy announced April 6 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Democrats have slammed the policy, and even House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has voiced his opposition. The U.N. human rights office last week called for an immediate halt to the practice. Church groups and children’s advocates have called the separations inhumane.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, came out against the separations on June 7. Both he and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, have signed on to the Senate and House versions of the Keep Families Together Act, which would force the Trump administration to stop the separations.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, has yet to issue any statement about the separation policy and still was examining the issue as of Thursday.
Collins said Sunday that the experience of previous administrations shows that family separations are ineffective as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
“And much more important, it is inconsistent with our American values to separate these children from their parents unless there is evidence of abuse or another very good reason,” she said.
Collins said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen testified that if parents present at a legal port of entry with their children to ask for asylum that their children would not be taken away.
“Yet there are numerous credible media accounts showing that exactly that is happening, and the administration needs to put an end to that right off,” Collins said.
She called the Democrats’ bill in the Senate too broad and said she instead supports the bipartisan immigration deal that fell apart in February. That bill would have created a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and would have provided $25 billion for border security. The bill failed to get the 60 votes necessary to advance it after furious, last-minute opposition by the White House.
Asked by “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan what she is doing to stop the separations, Collins said the Keep Families Together Act, introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., is not the answer because it is far too broad.
It “would essentially prevent arrest within 100 miles of the border, even if the person has committed a serious crime or is suspected of terrorist activities” Collins said. Instead, she called for again trying to pass the failed February bill.
The issue of children being separated from parents at the border has triggered protests across the country. In Maine, about 100 people demonstrated Thursday at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office in South Portland.
Portland resident Susie Crimmins, a member of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a Maine group that tries to pressure Collins to oppose Trump, said Collins’ announcement Sunday does nothing to stop the separations.
“It is incumbent on members of the Senate of both parties to take a moral stand and not resort to hand-wringing rhetoric. It is spin. She wants to say she is concerned and yet she is not willing to step out in front and do what is necessary to stop it,” Crimmins said.
Pingree said Sunday that Congress is not powerless to stop the Trump administration’s policy and that the Keep Families Together Act is a powerful tool for doing that.
“The Trump administration does not support this solution because it wants to continue holding these children hostage to fulfill its outrageous campaign promise for a multibillion-dollar southern border wall. But kidnapping — ripping mother and father from daughter and son — is no way to negotiate. Children are not bargaining chips,” she said in a prepared statement.
Collins was not available Sunday afternoon to answer questions from the Portland Press Herald related to her stance on the separations. Neither King’s nor Poliquin’s offices responded Sunday to emails with questions about Collins’ remarks on CBS.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins