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VOL. 133 | NO. 123 | Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Corker and Alexander Immigration Policy Reactions Differ As Trump Makes Changes

By Bill Dries

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As President Donald Trump announced Wednesday, June 20, that he would reverse his administration's policy on separating children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally or seeking asylum, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was among the Republican lawmakers sitting around the table with Trump.

Bob Corker

A day earlier Alexander and U.S. Senator Bob Corker were among the 13 Republican Senators who called on the Justice Department to end the policy.

During the session with Trump, while reporters were present, Alexander chose to take a different approach.

"I was thinking this morning, when we look at President Nixon’s portrait in the White House, we think that he did the unexpected and he went to China, because he could do that, he was in a position to do it," Alexander told Trump. "And when we were here a year ago, I think I suggested to you that on immigration—which has bedeviled us for 40 years as you’ve said—I believe you’re the president who can help us solve the immigration problem with your leadership."

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day earlier avoided direct criticism. “Like millions of Americans, we have read with increasing alarm reports of children being separated from their parents at the southern border,” it read. “Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsibility of the federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency.”

It cited past court decisions and other factors for requirements that call for the release of children in detention but not their parents when they enter the country illegally.

“But the immediate cause of the crisis is your Department’s recent institution of a “zero tolerance” policy under which all adults who enter the United States illegally are referred for prosecution, regardless of whether such individuals are claiming asylum and regardless of whether they are accompanied by minor children,” the Tiesday letter read.

It also called for a halt to the policy “while Congress works out a solution that enables faster processing of individuals who enter our country illegally without requiring the forced, inhumane separation of children from their parents.” 

Lamar Alexander

In an NBC interview Tuesday after the letter was released, Alexander's comments about the controversy were a stark contrast to the comments at the White House Wednesday when the emphasis was on Trump's opportunity.

“The White House could change it in five minutes and they should. It’s a mistake,” Alexander said Tuesday. “It’s a change in policy by this administration. Separating especially very small children from their parents at the border is not something we should do.”

Ultimately on Wednesday Trump did not do away with the zero tolerance policy. He instead ordered that families not be separated but that they be held together with the enforcement remaining at its current level.

Corker's reaction on Twitter Wednesday was different than Alexander's.

"This week, I called on the administration to halt family separations, so I am glad the president reversed his position and signed an executive order," he tweeted. "We will continue to work toward a long term solution."

And then Corker tweeted on what he termed "the administration's misguided trade policy."

"The president should reverse his decision to implement tariffs under the guise of national security," Corker tweeted. "If he doesn’t, Congress must act and should start by passing our bipartisan legislation."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis tweeted Wednesday that Trump's executive order "is an admission he lied when he blamed Democrats for passing 'law' that caused #familyseparation #childinternmentcamps."

"There was never a law, just a #liarinchief who has no plan to reunite 2300+ children with their parents," Cohen added.

Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown issued his first statement on the controversy Wednesday after the executive order was signed.

“I applaud President Trump for signing an executive order to keep migrant families together. Our immigration process is broken, and we need a system that prioritizes border security while upholding the core American values of compassion and respect," Kustoff said in the written statement. "Safe borders and respectful enforcement are not mutually exclusive, and I look forward to working with the President and my congressional colleagues to fix our broken system."

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