MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sen. Lamar Alexander on Tuesday called for an immediate end to a Trump administration policy that has resulted in migrant children being separated from their parents at the border, calling for legislation that prevents a "humanitarian crisis."
“Illegal immigration is against the law but new enforcement policies have resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their parents," the Tennessee Republican said in a statement Tuesday.
"The administration should end that new policy immediately while Congress works with the president on a bipartisan immigration solution that secures the border, provides a status for those already here and prevents a humanitarian crisis at the border.”
Alexander's statement echoes his colleague Sen. Bob Corker, who issued a similar statement.
“While the issues surrounding our immigration system are complex, we can all agree that innocent children should be protected and not used for deterrence," Corker said in a statement.
"The administration should use all tools available to stop needless family separation without delay, and Congress should act swiftly to address the serious challenges facing our nation’s immigration system.”
Congressman Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, also forcefully came out against the policy in a statement Tuesday, calling the policy "inhumane, un-American and unnecessary."
“President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen are totally responsible for the inhumane policy choice playing out on our southern border -- they are responsible for children being torn from the arms of their mothers and fathers," Cohen said.
Top conservatives, including key Trump allies, announced they were introducing bills to stop the practice amid a public outcry over the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal crossings.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas introduced legislation that the White House said it was reviewing, and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, also introduced a measure.
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. Prior procedure had limited prosecution for many family entrants, in part because regulations prohibit detaining children with their parents since the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
The policy change was meant to deter unlawful crossings — and Sessions issued a warning last month to those entering the U.S. illegally that their children “inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions.”
The practice has drawn widespread criticism from Democrats and many Republicans, including four former first ladies and evangelical leaders including Franklin Graham.
The Trump administration, however, has dug in its heels on the policy.
Trump on Monday blamed Democrats — the minority party in Washington — for obstructing legislation to fix the situation. In fact, it was Trump’s administration that broke with longstanding practice of processing migrant families in civil, rather than criminal, proceedings that allow families to be held together.
Memphis immigration attorney Tatine Darker, founding member of Darker & Associates, says immigration cases have drastically changed in the past year.
“What’s going on at the border is unconscionable and there’s no reason for it. There are plenty of other ways to do this. ... The raids, the arrests in the street, the fact that the community is absolutely terrorized, none of this needs to be happening.”
She says in the past, ICE used discretion on who they were going to prosecute for illegally entering the country and allowed many to stay.
“We turned a blind eye to that because our economy could sustain it. Now, we’re going to upend all these people’s lives and from a human standpoint, that’s not acceptable.”