While California's entire Democratic delegation in Congress has signed onto a bill to prohibit the separation of migrant families detained by border patrol, Republican members of Congress from the state remain divided on how to address the growing controversy, and some have remained entirely silent.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents Roseville and other Sacramento suburbs, is one of the few California Republicans who has stood firmly with President Trump in support of separating children from parents arrested crossing the border, part of the administration's "zero tolerance" policy for those caught trying to enter the country illegally. Under that policy, the Homeland Security Department has ratcheted up criminal prosecutions of adult border crossers, removing any children traveling with them and referring them to separate detention facilities operated by the Health and Human Services Department.
That's a shift from previous administrations, when children were typically detained with their parents, temporarily, then released together to await a hearing in immigration court.
"The President is enforcing our laws as the Constitution commands him to do, and he should have the support of every American who believes in the rule of law," McClintock said in a statement provided to the Bee. "There is a simple protection from being separated from one’s family: don’t break the law. Family separation is not the President’s fault for arresting and prosecuting lawbreakers. It is the lawbreakers’ fault for breaking the laws in the first place."
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Other Republicans have taken a softer stance — in line with House Republican leadership — saying they want to fix the current conundrum by allowing children to be detained with their parents under the Department of Homeland Security's supervision. That is also the path the White House, buffeted by national outrage, proposed via an executive order Wednesday afternoon,
"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," the president said while signing the order at the White House. But the approach is likely to face court challenges. A 1997 legal settlement, reinforced by a judge in 2015, bars the detention of children for more than 20 days.
The executive order directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to request a federal court in California modify that settlement agreement to allow the government to detain children and their parents together indefinitely. And it would make Department of Defense facilities and other government properties available for family detention as current Homeland Security detention centers reach capacity.
The House will vote on a similar proposal Thursday evening. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield touted the legislation at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday morning. The bill would keep families together in Homeland Security detention and allow the department to access $7 billion in border security funding to hold them in centers specifically designed for families. It would also reunite parents that have been separated from their children in detention.
"I want to be very clear, we do not support the separation of children and families being broken apart," McCarthy said.
Central Valley Republican Reps. Jeff Denham, of Turlock, and David Valadao, of Hanford, were instrumental in drafting the House legislation, which would also provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, known as Dreamers. Denham and Valadao maintain it is the best solution to the current family separation crisis.
"The president’s executive order does not alleviate Congress of its responsibility to legislate," Denham said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Separation of families is absolutely intolerable, and I urge my colleagues to join me in taking immediate action.”
A spokesman for Republican Rep. Doug La Malfa, of Richvale, said the congressman hasn't yet decided how we will vote on the immigration bill Denham and Valadao are pushing, noting the legislation has yet to be finalized. He told the Bee that La Malfa does not support families being separated, but remains in favor of increased immigration enforcement and the "zero tolerance" policy that Trump has pursued.
A spokesman for Tulare Rep. Devin Nunes did not reply to a request to comment on the issue.
Democrats are adamantly opposed to Republicans' proposed solutions.
"The answer isn’t to violate the law, to put whole families into indefinite prison. The answer is to make sure there is the orderly administration of the law," California Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose said at a press conference with Democratic lawmakers on Thursday afternoon. Lofgren pointed to programs that ensure undocumented immigrants appear for their court hearings, where they are either sent home or granted asylum.
California Sen. Kamala Harris took to Twitter to argue that "indefinitely detaining children with their families in camps is inhumane and will not make us safe." And she noted that Trump's executive order "in no way deals with reuniting the *two thousand three hundred* children who have been torn away from their parents and remain separated."
In the House, the entire Democratic delegation from California is co-sponsoring legislation that would prohibit the Homeland Security Department from separating migrant children from their parents, with a few exceptions. But it would go further, stating that detention is not the best option for families, at all.
In the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has drafted similar legislation, which has the support of all 48 fellow Democrats.
"The administration’s new policy is unnecessarily cruel and does not align with the values we hold as a country," Democratic Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove said in a statement voicing support for House Democrats' bill. "I call on the Trump administration to immediately reverse this heartless policy and call on every Democrat and Republican to work together and support this urgently needed legislation.”