CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., went after critics of President Donald Trump on Thursday over the separation of families on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the Trump administration’s actions are similar to those of previous administrations.
“Why they are blaming Trump for it now is frankly outrageous. It’s a shame when they’re trying to say Trump is doing something different,” Mooney said on MetroNews “Talkline.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed an order in April directing the criminal prosecution of people illegally entering the United States. The “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents.
Earlier this week, images were released showing the living conditions of detention facilities — which have sets of cages children live in — as well as audio of children crying after being separated from their parents.
Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that still enforces criminal prosecution, but keeps families together. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is responsible for overseeing the custody of the families. It is still unclear how the federal government plans to unite children and parents.
Mooney said the practice of dividing families is not new.
“This has been going on under Clinton, under Bush, under Obama. It’s the same laws of all the presidents,” he said.
Mooney said the executive order is in line with the Flores settlement, which requires the federal government to release immigrant children to their parents, adult relatives or a licensed program. A subsequent ruling set a standard of a 20-day custody period.
“You don’t put adults in with children. They abuse them, they rape them, they recruit them for gangs,” Mooney said. “It’s ridiculous that President Trump is being attacked for complying with the law and protecting children from being attacked in prison. It is so wrong what they’ve done to President Trump on this.”
The Department of Justice filed an emergency motion Thursday in federal court in the Central District of California seeking to change the agreement.
“Under current law and legal rulings, including this Court’s, it is not possible for the U.S. government to detain families together during the pendency of their immigration proceedings,” the department said.
Outside of Mooney’s Charleston office, more than 80 people organized for a protest against the “zero tolerance” policy. The ACLU of West Virginia and grassroots organization Rise Up West Virginia organized the event.
“Children should not be in jails,” said Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia. “The government should not be detaining parents and children. They should not be detaining anybody who is not a flight risk or a threat to public safety. They’re not making those determinations.”
Cohen said crossing the border is a misdemeanor, which is not a valid enough reason to split families.
“The administration has told half-truths and lies over and over again throughout this whole process,” he said. “And I understand this is a very complex subject. People may not be fully informed about it, but this is not the long-standing policy of the United States to detain every single person who crosses the border seeking asylum or crossing the border without authorization.”
Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Catholic Conference of West Virginia, said the policies were “incomprehensible.”
“As early as the Book of Deuteronomy, you’ll read that God wants the widow and the orphan dealt with justly and He loves the stranger among us,” O’Donnell said. “This is repeated again and again and again throughout the Jewish scriptures.”
Sessions, in defense of the “zero tolerance” policy, mentioned the Book of Romans in a June 14 speech in Indiana.
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
O’Donnell said Sessions did not consider Romans in full during his speech.
“If he had bothered to read a few lines further, he would read you’re supposed to love your neighbor as yourself. And love of neighbor is love, is the fulfillment of the law,” he said.
Cohen said the policy should not be a partisan issue, adding he finds it outrageous there is a public discussion underway about the practices.
“All people of good heart can agree we should not be caging children in kennels like they’re dogs,” he said. “That is a bipartisan issue, or so I thought until the last few weeks.”
The House of Representatives was supposed to vote Thursday on immigration legislation, but a vote on a bill seen as a compromise between the factions of the Republican Party has been delayed until next week. A more conservative bill failed 193-231.
Trump has said on multiple occasions he wants Congress to pass an immigration bill.
“We’re working on a much more comprehensive bill. A lot of good things are happening toward immigration and proper immigration, but we have to have strong borders,” he said Wednesday. “And ultimately, we want to see it done right, and it will be done right.”