0805 GMT January 19, 2019
US President Donald Trump told Republican lawmakers he is “1,000 percent” behind their rival immigration bills, providing little clear direction for party leaders searching for a way to defuse the escalating controversy over family separations at the southern border.
And it’s uncertain if Trump’s support will be enough to push any legislation through the divided GOP majority, AP reported.
GOP lawmakers, increasingly fearful of a voter backlash in November, met with Trump for about an hour Tuesday at the Capitol to try to find a solution that both holds to Trump’s hardline immigration policy and ends the practice of taking migrant children from parents charged with entering the country illegally.
Many lawmakers say Trump could simply reverse the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and keep families together.
Just hours after doubling down on his administration's much-derided policy that triggers separations of migrant children from their parents, Trump braved frustrated and in some cases angry fellow Republicans to assure he wanted their swift resolution to the crisis.
While top officials have stood by Trump's "zero tolerance" approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president's own Republican Party, AFP reported.
The UN has slammed the separation practice as unconscionable, while Amnesty International blasted it as "nothing short of torture." Mexico's foreign minister condemned it as "cruel and inhuman."
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Also Pope Francis has criticized the Trump administration’s immigration policy, saying populism is not the answer to the world’s immigration problems, Reuters reported.
Speaking to Reuters, the Pope said he supported recent statements by US Catholic bishops who called the separation of children from their parents “contrary to our Catholic values” and “immoral”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday said images of children being held in cages in US migrant detention facilities were deeply disturbing and that Britain did not approve of separating migrant families.
“The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing. This is wrong, this is not something that we agree with, this is not the United Kingdom’s approach,” May told Parliament.
‘Mr. president, don't you have kids?’
Democrats who have visited minors in detention in Texas and California describe crying children held in cage-like conditions behind chain-link fencing, with no idea when they will see their parents again.
An audio recording purported to feature Central American children separated from their parents sobbing and wailing has also struck a nerve.
With emotions running high, a handful of House Democrats protested the Trump meeting, yelling out at Trump in a rare face-to-face demonstration against a president by sitting members of Congress.
"Quit separating the kids!" Juan Vargas, a Democrat from southern California, shouted as Trump exited the meeting. "Mr. President, don't you have kids?"
While Trump held firm to his tough immigration stance in an earlier appearance Tuesday, he acknowledged during the closed-door meeting that the coverage of family separations is taking a toll. Trump said his daughter, Ivanka, had told him the situation with the families looks bad, one lawmaker said.
“He said, ’Politically, this is bad,’” said Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas. “It’s not about the politics, this is the right thing to do.”
Trump has accused Democrats of provoking the current crisis by blocking legislation to combat illegal immigration.
But Democratic leaders have pushed back. Senator Chuck Schumer said the president "continues to try to use these separated families as hostages in the legislative process."
Calling for an immediate fix, Schumer added: "The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now."
Senate Republicans are also moving to block Trump's policy.
A group led by Senator Orrin Hatch wrote Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding a pause in separations, while Senator John Cornyn was drafting "emergency" legislation to allow families to remain intact while their cases are adjudicated.