By Jordain Carney – 06/18/18 06:30 PM EDT
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) said on Monday that he will introduce legislation aimed at preventing the controversial practice of separating immigrant families along the border.
“While these cases are pending, families should stay together. Children belong with their mothers and fathers,” Cruz, who is up for reelection in November, said in a statement.
Cruz’s proposal, according to a release from his office, would require immigrant families detained along the border to remain together “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”
It would also require that asylum cases are adjudicated within 14 days, approve new temporary shelters for immigrant families and increase the number of immigration judges.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week,” Cruz added. Cruz is favored to win reelection in bright-red Texas, but is facing an unexpectedly lively challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has made immigration a key part of his campaign, including calling for the family-dividing policy to end and holding a protest Sunday at the site of one of the tent cities housing children separated from their parents.
“We decided there wouldn’t be a more powerful way to spend Father’s Day than with children who have just been taken from their fathers, children who have been taken from their mothers, children who won’t be able to be with their family,” O’Rourke reportedly said.
Cruz’s legislation comes as the Trump administration is facing increasingly bipartisan backlash over its policies resulting in the separation of immigrant families.
Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy earlier this year for immigrants illegally crossing the southern border.
“If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple,” Sessions said last month at a press conference at the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you, as required by law.”
He added in a statement: “To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the practice at the White House press briefing on Monday, saying “Congress alone can fix it,” despite the policy only recently being enacted by the administration.
“This entire crisis, just to be clear, is not new,” Nielsen said. “Currently, it is the exclusive product of loopholes in our federal immigration laws that prevent illegal immigrant minors and family members from being detained and removed to their home countries.”
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