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No Republicans support Senate bill that would stop child separations at border

Posted: Updated: Jun 18, 2018 4:49 PM
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon gives a statement regarding family separation after visiting the Southwest Key Casa Padre Facility in Brownsville on Sunday, June 17, 2018. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland stands beside Merkley. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon gives a statement regarding family separation after visiting the Southwest Key Casa Padre Facility in Brownsville on Sunday, June 17, 2018. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland stands beside Merkley.
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WASHINGTON - West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday became the 49th Democrat to sign onto a bill intended to halt family separations for immigrants accused of trying to cross the border illegally.

Every Senate Democrat is now a co-sponsor of the legislation which would prohibit children from being separated from their parents within 100 miles of the U.S. border except for instances of abuse, neglect or other specific circumstances.

"As a father, grandfather, and Christian, I am wholeheartedly opposed to any policy that allows innocent children to be separated from their parents as they enter our country,' Manchin said in a statement.

The Keep Families Together Act was introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein this month after the Trump administration started instituting a "zero tolerance' immigration policy, under which anyone who crosses the border illegally will be prosecuted.

More: Migrant detention center: Not much room for kids to play in the warehouse-like facility

More: Amid outrage, Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen 'will not apologize' for separating families

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Because of a decades-old court decision, called the Flores Settlement, immigrant children must be held under the "least restrictive' settings possible, which means they cannot be detained for long periods of time with their parents.

If a mother and child enter the U.S. illegally, the mother is sent to a federal jail or other detention center to await prosecution. Since children cannot be held in an adult facility, they're put into the custody of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Through the end of May, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Democrats have jumped on the separations, with a stream of lawmakers showing up at the border and other detention centers and demanding to see what is happening.

The bill has no support from Senate Republicans, despite some saying they are uncomfortable with what is currently taking place at the border.

President Donald Trump has frequently blamed Democrats, including tweets on Monday that said they were at fault for "weak and ineffective" border security. Members of his administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have defended the policy.

"We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job," she said Monday during a speech to the National Sheriff's Association in New Orleans. "This administration has a simple message - If you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has defended the policy repeatedly, cited the Bible amid criticism from faith leaders last week.

"Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves,' Sessions said. "Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing, and it protects the weak.'

House Republicans have tried to address the issue in a broad immigration bill that would also fund the president's border wall, provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, and end the diversity visa lottery program and limit family-based migration.

But critics say the way the GOP bill wouldn't really fix the problem because it would just relax the Flores Settlement and children would still end up separated from their parents, though for a briefer period of time.

No Democrats have indicated support for the GOP measure and it is still unclear if it will muster enough Republican support to pass the House. It faces very little chance of passing the Senate, where legislation requires at least 10 Democrats to support it. The president supports the bill.

Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, went even further Monday afternoon by calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign over the policy.

"It's time for Secretary Nielsen to resign. The government should be in the business of keeping families together, not tearing them apart. And the government should have a commitment to transparency and accountability. Under her tenure, DHS does not have a track record of either," she tweeted. Harris is one of multiple Democrats who is reportedly considering a presidential run in 2020.

Nielsen has been under increasing fire as she continues to push back against criticism of the policy.

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen

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