The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” crackdown on migrant families is inflaming tensions over immigration as some Republicans express unease with a practice that President Trump has misleadingly tried to pin on Democrats, the Washington Post reports. The controversy over separating families came to a head over the weekend when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) tried to gain access to a government facility in Brownsville, Tx., that holds migrant children but was barred from entering. On Tuesday, Trump again tried to hold Democrats responsible, although his own administration’s policy toughening consequences for those who cross the border illegally is prompting the separations. Increased scrutiny of administration policy comes as House Republicans are locked in a battle over the fate of young, undocumented immigrants that has driven a significant wedge into their ranks, plunging Washington deeper into a divisive fight over immigration that was not on the political radar barely a month ago.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said he has requested information from the Department of Homeland Security about why families are being separated and other details about the policy. “There is no easy set of answers here,” Lankford said. “You don’t want a child trafficked, you don’t want a child traveling with someone who’s not a family member and you don’t know what the relationship is there, but you also don’t want to separate families. So we’re asking questions.” No law requires that migrant families be separated at the border, as Trump has falsely asserted in recent tweets. In explaining Trump’s comments, administration officials have pointed to an anti-trafficking law and court rulings that, together, limit the detention of children and put unaccompanied migrant children in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services as they await court hearings. That means that under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy detailed last month, every adult who tries to cross the border illegally will be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, in effect separating children from adults with whom they are traveling because minors cannot be held in criminal detention.