Melania Trump says US should govern ‘with heart’ amid immigration row

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Melania Trump says US should govern ‘with heart’ amid immigration row

The first lady “hates to see children separated from their families”, her spokeswoman said.


Even Melania Trump waded into the emotional issue (PA)
Even Melania Trump waded into the emotional issue (PA)

First lady Melania Trump has waded into the emotional controversy over policies enacted by her husband’s administration that have increased the number of migrant children being separated from their parents.

Mrs Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said the first lady believes “we need to be a country that follows all laws”, but also one “that governs with heart”.

She said that Mrs Trump “hates to see children separated from their families” and hopes “both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform”.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution.

President Donald Trump has tried to blame Democrats, who hold no levers of power in the government, for the situation that has sparked fury and a national debate over the moral implications of his hard-line approach to immigration enforcement.

“Nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said Kellyanne Conway, a counsellor to the president.

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Demonstrators gather to protest against the separation of immigrant families at the border in Austin (Amanda Voisard/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

The administration wants to send a message, said Maine Senator Susan Collins, a Republican critic of the policy, “that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That’s traumatising to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.”

Mr Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation amid an election-season debate over an issue that helped vault the New York real estate mogul into the Oval Office in 2016.

The House is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure that includes key proposals supported by the president. The White House has indicated Mr Trump would sign either of those.

Ms Conway rejected the idea that Mr Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his long-promised border wall, even after Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday: “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

She, too, put the onus on Democrats, saying if there are serious about overhauling the system, “they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”

Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: “The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”

Representative Adam Schiff said the practice was “deeply unethical” and that Republicans’ refusal to criticise Mr Trump represented a “sad degeneration” of the party, which he said had become “the party of lies”.

“There are other ways to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats. Using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent,” said Senator Jack Reed.

Representative Ben Ray Lujon said Mr Trump “could pick up the phone and stop it today”.

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Donald Trump holds up an executive order for border security and immigration enforcement improvements during a visit to the Homeland Security Department headquarters in January (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The House proposals face broad opposition from Democrats, and even if a bill does pass, the closely divided Senate seems unlikely to go along.

Representative Michael McCaul, who helped write the conservative version with Representative Bob Goodlatte, said he had spoken to Mr Trump on Saturday and that the president “is fully committed to both of these bills. He’s put the full weight of his office behind it.”

Mr McCaul said both bills satisfy Mr Trump’s main objectives.

“Without him coming to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, I don’t think we’d have that sort of maximum pressure, if you will, to get us across the goal line, and I anticipate on Tuesday that he’s going to be the leader he is and we’re going to get something passed out of the House,” said Mr McCaul.

Mr Trump’s former chief strategist said Republicans would face steep consequences for pushing the compromise bill because it provides a path to citizenship for young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Steve Bannon argued that effort risked alienating Mr Trump’s political base and contributing to election losses in November, when Republicans hope to preserve their congressional majorities.

“I strongly recommend that we just wait until 2019, right, to address this,” he said, while defending the administration’s practice of separating parents from children as an example of Mr Trump making good on a key campaign promise.

“We ran on a policy, very simply, stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back, and to help our workers, OK? And so he went to a zero-tolerance policy,” Mr Bannon said.

“Zero tolerance, it’s a crime to come across illegally, and children get separated.”

Representative Beto O’Rourke said he was working on legislation that would end the practice of family separation.

Speaking from Texas, where he was leading a march to a town where a new tent structure for children recently opened, Mr O’Rourke said “we can do the right thing by this country and for those kids, and not do it at the price of a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-high, 30 billion dollar wall, not doing it at the price of deporting people who are seeking asylum, deporting people in some cases back to certain death, not doing it at the cost of ending family migration, which is the story of this country.”

Press Association

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