U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said in a press conference Thursday that he strongly opposed the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy on people illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico that resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their parents and held in detention centers.
“I believe that separating families is completely contrary to our country’s deeply held belief of faith and family,” Jones said.
Jones’ comments come during a week of controversy over the immigration policy. About 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at the Mexican border since May. About 500 of those children have been reunited with their parents, the Associated Press reported Friday.
President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that modified the zero tolerance policy somewhat, ordering that families be kept together if apprehended at the border. Plans for where and how families would be detained still are being determined.
The Trump administration began making plans to house on military bases up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border on military bases. However, it was unclear whether those spaces were for children or families.
At the same time, the Justice Department went to court in an attempt to overturn a 1997 settlement, called the Flores settlement, that prohibits the government from holding children for more than 20 days.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has drawn heavy criticism over separation of families. Former U.S. attorneys in a letter distributed Monday said that the crisis falls on Session’s shoulders because of his zero tolerance policy. He also has been denounced by about 600 members of the United Methodist Church, to which he belongs.
Sessions in an interview with CBN News on Thursday acknowledged that the American people are not happy about separating parents from their children at the border.
“We never really intended to do that,” said Sessions, who served as Alabama’s senator until he was appointed attorney general by Trump. “What we intended to do was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they have committed.”
Jones, elected to serve out Sessions term in the Senate after Sessions was appointed AG, said it was possible some of the children being detained in Texas might end up in Alabama, but he said there are still too many unanswered questions.
“We don’t know how those 2,000 children (could) be reunited with their families or what the cost of all this is,” said Jones, “There are still a lot of unanswered questions in all of this right now. We are going to have to wait to see what comes out of Homeland Security.”
Jones said the economic impact of immigration policy and laws has to be considered.
“We have got to look beyond the hyperbole and the emotion,” Jones said, “but let’s look at not just what it’s (immigration policy) doing in human terms, but also at the economic impact on the state of Alabama.”
Citing an immigration bill that failed in the House of Representatives on Thursday as an example, Jones said the wrong immigration plan could end up a costly burden to Alabama and other states. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a letter in response to the bill that estimated a loss of $654 million in economic output.
Jones, said what’s needed are long-term solutions that are both humane and realistic economically. “There’s a lot of talk, at least in the Senate, on this issue and there has been for a long time” Jones said.
Jones said he supports strong borders.
“There is no one that I’ve met in Washington D.C. that wants open borders. We all want border security,” Jones said. “The question is funding it partially with a wall, with new technology, and trying to help ease the backlog of the cases with more judges.”
Jones said he backed an immigration bill in February that had bipartisan support.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation if the president and the homeland security secretary had not torpedoed that bill,” said Jones, “People are trying to revive some of that, but it is going to be more difficult because it has become even more of a political issue.”
Also Thursday, first lady Melania Trump visited a detention center that is housing some of the children, saying she wanted to see the situation for herself.
After the visit, she said: “Spending time with them reinforces the fact that these kids are in this situation as a direct result of adult actions. It is my hope that members of Congress will finally reach across the aisle and work together to solve this problem with common sense immigration reform that secures our borders and keeps families together.”