Hours before President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s increasingly unpopular policy of separating child immigrants at the southern border, members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation said they did not support splitting up families.
Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that continues his administration’s policy of prosecuting anyone caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border but ends the practice of separating children — some as young as a few months old — from the adults they were with.
It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who had insisted that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.
The news in recent days has been dominated by images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, questions of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November’s midterm elections.
Until Wednesday, the president, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials had repeatedly argued the only way to end the practice was for Congress to pass new legislation, while Democrats said Trump could do it with his signature alone. That’s what he did on Wednesday.
“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” said Trump, who added that he didn’t like the “sight” or “feeling” of children separated from their parents.
In a statement to the Star-Tribune, Sen. Mike Enzi echoed Trump’s language.
“I believe we need to protect our borders against those who seek to enter our country illegally, but I do not like seeing children involuntarily separated from their parents,” Enzi wrote. “Our immigration policies should be compassionate for children while respecting the rule of law.”
In a separate statement, Sen. John Barrasso called for a bipartisan solution and for an end to family separation.
“I support emergency efforts in Congress to keep families together, remove legal barriers to swift processing and resolve asylum cases quickly,” Barrasso said. “I am hopeful that Democrats will work with us toward a bipartisan solution to the ongoing problems resulting from years of bad immigration policy.”
After Trump signed the executive order, Rep. Liz Cheney’s spokeswoman said in a statement that the congresswoman supported the president’s action.
“Congress must provide the full funding President Trump has asked for in order to build a wall and truly secure our southern border,” spokeswoman Maddy Weast wrote in response to the same list of questions that was sent to Enzi and Barrasso. “Democrats in the House and Senate should stop using children as political pawns and start working constructively with us to secure our borders and fix this nation’s broken immigration system.”
The statements from Wyoming’s congressional delegation came in response to a list of questions sent by the Star-Tribune.
Weast’s accusations that Democrats are using the children as “pawns” mirrors a similar charge leveled at the Trump administration by opponents across the aisle. Democrats have said the policy of separation is an attempt to force opponents of Trump’s immigration policies to the table to fund the border wall, among other things.
Cheney, Barrasso and Enzi did not respond to a question about that accusation, though Barrasso called for a bipartisan solution. Nor did the lawmakers respond to questions about the conditions in which the children are being held; about audio released from ProPublica that shows crying children in one of the detention centers; or the status of female children, who have been absent from official images and videos of the detention centers.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are working on legislation aimed at addressing family separation. Barrasso is a co-sponsor of a bill introduced by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would end family separation while expediting the review of asylum cases and the deportation of those who don’t meet that criteria.
The bill was a reversal for Cruz, who told the Monitor newspaper in McAllen, Texas, earlier this week that people who commit crimes in the U.S. are separated from their children.
“What all the media attention on separation of families is really saying is, ‘Don’t incarcerate those who come here illegally,’” Cruz said, according to the Monitor report.
Nearly 2,300 minors were separated from their families at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Statements from Trump officials indicate the separations are a choice made by the administration. Last May, John Kelly — then the secretary of Homeland Security — told CNN that he was considering implementing family separation as a deterrent. Stephen Miller, a Trump aide who reportedly championed family separations, told the New York Times that it was a “simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period.”
The separations are a direct result of that policy, under which every individual caught attempting to illegally cross the border into the United States is prosecuted. Under a 1952 immigration law, a person caught attempting to make a first illegal entry into the U.S. can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Cheney, Barrasso and Enzi did not respond to questions about the president’s claim that only Congress could fix family separation, nor did they respond to one about whether the separations were a deterrent, as Kelly had previously said they would be.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.