Sen. Susan Collins is calling on the Trump administration to immediately stop the “inhumane and traumatizing” practice of separating children from their parents after the families illegally cross into the United States.
Collins said she is deeply troubled by the “zero tolerance” policy and on Tuesday she joined a group of 13 Republican senators who are asking the Department of Justice to stop separating families who have illegally crossed into the United States.
“My concern is the number of children who are being separated continues to climb, resulting in trauma to these children who have done nothing wrong,” Collins said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., Tuesday night. “I view this practice as inconsistent with the values we hold dear as Americans. I think it’s important that we send a strong message to the administration that this practice needs to stop and it needs to stop immediately.”
The letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asks the administration to stop enforcing its “zero tolerance” policy until Congress can pass legislation to keep families together and called the department’s institution of the policy “the immediate cause of the crisis.” Other signees of the letter included Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“We support the administration’s efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical forced separation of minor children from their parents,” the senators wrote. “We therefore ask you to work with the relevant administration officials to stop the separation of families while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally. We believe a reasonable path forward can be found that accommodates the need to enforce our laws while holding true to other, equally essential values.
Collins believes Congress needs to pass a bipartisan bill to clarify the law, and she said that the Trump administration has the power to immediately halt the separations while that work is done. If the administration does not stop the practice, she said Congress may be able to put in place restrictions on federal funds used to separate children from their parents.
President Trump met with Republican lawmakers Tuesday night in an effort to find a solution to the crisis, with their focus shifting to a new plan to keep children in detention longer than now permitted – but with their parents.
Collins said repeatedly that she feels the forced separations are inhumane and traumatizing for children who have done nothing wrong.
“What I’m most haunted by was a particular photograph I saw in the New York Times of a 2-year-old girl who is clearly frightened and distraught and crying while her mother was being searched by border control agents,” she said. “No one was comforting that little girl. No one was paying attention to her. That’s just wrong and not what our country stands for.”
Also on Tuesday, Maine’s 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin said unequivocally in a video posted to Facebook that immigrant children stopped at U.S. border crossings should stay with their parents.
The Republican’s remarks, his first direct comments about the ongoing issue, were much more forceful than statements released by his office over the last week, including one from his spokesman Mondaythat said Poliquin “never wants there to be a situation where children are being separated from their parents,” but was still reviewing the matter.
The video released Tuesday was taken by a member of an advocacy group, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, who approached the congressman at an airport. After first walking away from the woman, Marcella Makinen, Poliquin stops and answers when she asks what his position is.
“We want to make sure that kids stay with their parents,” he said. “I’m a father. The kids stay with their parents.”
His candid comments came as a growing number of lawmakers, mainly Republicans, face mounting pressure to denounce the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when stopped at the U.S. border with Mexico, even as Trump and his allies have alternately defended the practice and falsely blamed Democrats.
While all 47 Senate Democrats, as well as independent senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have signed onto a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the Keep Families Together Act, no Senate Republicans have to date.
The debate that has raged in Washington has started to filter down to the state level as well. Governors in several states, including two Republicans, have said that they will no longer send National Guard troops to the border while the policy is still in effect.
Shawn Moody, who last week won the Republican primary for Maine governor, was asked about the issue at a rally in Augusta on Tuesday. He didn’t denounce the practice and largely sided with the president.
“We got to look at deterrents,” Moody said. “People can debate what’s the right tactic to use, but I am 100 percent behind the president in terms of securing the border, but that’s up to the Congress and the president to do.”
The Democratic primary for governor is not yet decided because of the ranked-choice vote tabulation process, but the campaign manager for the leading candidate, Attorney General Janet Mills, said she has been outspoken as attorney general in criticizing the Trump administration’s immigration policies and has joined lawsuits challenging them. “No matter where you are on the immigration issue, surely we can agree that ripping children from their parents is unacceptable,” Michael Ambler said.
The other leading Democratic candidate, Adam Cote, could not be reached Tuesday night to comment on the border issue.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have denounced the separation of children from parents by border agents, but they don’t appear united on the next step.
King said it was an “obscene practice” and spoke on the Senate floor Monday on the issue.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District, has been outspoken on the issue for more than a month. She, too, called the practice “inhumane” and said Congress could fix it immediately.
The video exchange between Poliquin and Makinen at an airport in Washington was noteworthy because of Poliquin’s candor. He has, in the past, avoided engaging with critics in public settings.
The woman, Marcella Makinen, introduces herself to Poliquin, who asks immediately if her camera is on.
She tells him it is and then explains that she’s from Maine. He replies, “Great” and starts to walk away.
Makinen follows him with the camera still on and says, “I want to let you know that I’m really concerned about the children being separated from their parents.”
Poliquin explains that he doesn’t appreciate the camera in his face and tells the woman to explain what her issue is, while he continues to walk away.
“I’m really concerned about the children,” Makinen starts to say.
“Yeah, so am I,” Poliquin replies.
Makinen then asks what his position is. He then stops and says twice that kids should stay with parents.
“You can turn that off,” he said. “You don’t have to put that in my face, that’s very rude.”
Makinen, in an interview Tuesday, said she doesn’t think she was rude. She said the encounter was random, but when she saw Poliquin she wanted to ask him the question.
“I feel like he’s been evasive and difficult in the past,” she said. “So it did occur that this could be useful.”
She said she was surprised with his candor.
“I was thrilled that he said that,” Makinen said. “I don’t know what it’s worth, but I was pleased.”
Poliquin’s spokesman, Brendan Conley, said in an email Tuesday that the congressman’s position hasn’t changed. He’s been against the practice all along but believes comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue.
Poliquin’s Democratic opponent is likely to be former state Rep. Jared Golden, who had the most votes during last week’s primary but didn’t quite reach the 50 percent needed under Maine’s new ranked-choice voting system.
Also on Tuesday, Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and Bishop Stephen T. Lane, the Episcopal bishop of Maine, released a joint statement saying tearing children from their parents is “immoral” and does not reflect the teachings of Jesus or the values on which the nation was founded.
“Families that present themselves as a unit for consideration for asylum should be treated as a unit throughout the legal adjudication process,” they wrote. “Separating children from their parents will result in unnecessary harm and irreparable trauma for all concerned. We call on our leaders to fix this policy immediately by passing legislation that clarifies that mothers and fathers held for asylum proceedings may be held with their children in a common facility.”
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, says families should not be separated from their children.