Good Morning This Tuesday Morning June 19th 2018

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President Trump heads to Capitol Hill today to discuss immigration reform with Republicans as controversy explodes around his administration’s policy of separating families that have crossed into the country illegally.

The images and audio of children crying and being kept behind chain-link fencing has outraged Republicans and Democrats alike, with some likening the practice to Japanese internment camps and Holocaust trains used by the Nazis.

Trump is digging in, saying, “the United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility.”

On Monday, the president sent Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen into the White House briefing room to defend the practice.

How the administration explains its policy separating families at the border

  • A “crisis”: The administration is arguing that immediate action had to be taken to deter illegal immigration because the U.S. is operating with a “functionally open” border.
  • Blaming Congress: The administration is arguing that Democrats in Congress created “loopholes” that have incentivized illegal immigrants to try to sneak into the country with small children. “Congress needs to fix it,” Nielsen said. But the administration is choosing to enforce the laws in a way that prior administrations never did.
  • Claiming rule of law: The administration is going with a “tough love” defense, saying that previous administrations ignored laws and statutes that require those crossing the border illegally be arrested and separated from their children. “We no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” Nielsen said.
  • Blaming the media: The administration says children are being treated properly, despite media reports to the contrary. And Nielsen said the press is ignoring key facts, like that 10,000 of the 12,000 children in question arrived at the border with people who were not their parents.

None of this will quell the bipartisan outrage over what is widely viewed as a cruel and inhumane practice. The issue has galvanized Republicans and Democrats, advocacy groups, religious leaders, the first lady and four former first ladies.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is calling the practice “wicked.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) says it’s heartless. The states are revolting, with governors saying they’ll refuse to send national guard troops to the border. Catholic cardinals say it’s immoral. Potential Democratic presidential candidates are calling on Nielsen to resign, and Democratic House and Senate candidates are leading protests or spending time at the migrant detention centers. There will be congressional hearings. Women, from Hillary Clinton to Laura Bush, are leading the charge.

Poll: Two-thirds of Americans say separating children from their families is “unacceptable.” And the watchdog group Equity Forward commissioned polling over the weekend in districts of three vulnerable GOP House members that found Republicans there oppose the policy.

How does this end?

  • An executive fix: Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy that put this into motion and he could announce that the administration will end the practice. But Trump has given no sign that he will back off. The political pressure is white hot and yet the administration is digging in.

A Congressional fix: The White House is demanding Congress provide a legislative fix but that seems like a long shot. Republicans in the House have two immigration bills they’re considering. Both would address the separation of families, but neither is likely to become law. On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) released a bill that would end the separation of families. Cruz is up for reelection in 2018 and his opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), has been leading protests on the matter.

From The Hill’s Rafael Bernal and Mike Lillis: “The political problem facing the White House is that pressure will mount on Republican leaders to pass a narrow immigration bill that will reverse the administration’s policy at the border.”

  • A judicial fix: Lawsuits are certain to be in the works and it’s possible that the courts could intervene.
  • Nothing changes: The president and his allies believe immigration was a winning issue for them in 2016 and are rolling the dice that they can overcome the horrific optics of this political firestorm in another election year. In fact, Politico reports that White House officials are planning new ways to harden immigration laws ahead of Election Day. And The New York Times reports that the president is eager to rally his base around immigration for the midterm elections.

The Hill: Trump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy.

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