WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he opposes separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, but he blamed a court ruling, not the Trump administration, for the increasing number of heart-wrenching separations.
“We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” Ryan told reporters Thursday. “This is because of a court ruling.”
House Republicans may try to address that issue in a GOP immigration bill that's set for a vote next week. But Ryan offered no details on what kind of legislative fix he would support and did not specifically say it would be part of that proposal, which he and other and GOP negotiators are crafting behind closed doors.
The Trump administration says it’s taking children away from their parents and placing them with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement because of a court ruling that ended the government’s practice of unlimited detention of children in federal facilities.
Immigration-rights advocates hailed the ruling, saying it would guarantee minimum standards for the treatment of families seeking asylum in the U.S. as they flee violence, domestic abuse, and other problems in their home countries.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recently stepped up prosecutions of those who cross the border illegally. While those criminal cases are pursued, the government is placing children with the refugee resettlement office.
Sessions and others say the prosecutions should deter other families from attempting to cross the border illegally.
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Sessions said in May. "If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border."
Asked if he was comfortable with the increased separations, Ryan said “No, I’m not.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ryan could help end the practice by telling the Trump administration to stop. She said it does not require a legislative fix.
“They can weigh in with the administration and stop it on a dime and not wait for some concoction that really doesn’t address the immorality” of the policy, Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “This is the policy of the Trump administration.”
Pelosi said Sessions’ assertion that parents should simply not seek asylum in the U.S. if they don’t want to have their children taken from them at the border ignores the horrific realities these families face in their home countries.
“These moms took these children to escape possible death, rape, gang violence,” she said. “They have no alternative but to try to seek asylum in the United States.”