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With Immigration Controversy as Backdrop, GOP Senate Candidates Blast Democrats

Candidates in Missouri, West Virginia and Pennsylvania criticize Democratic bill to address separation policy

Patrick Morrisey, who is running against Sen. Joe Manchin III, is using the current immigration controversy to blast his Democratic opponent. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Patrick Morrisey, who is running against Sen. Joe Manchin III, is using the current immigration controversy to blast his Democratic opponent. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While senators in both parties said Tuesday they want to solve the crisis of parents and children being separated before immigration cases are adjudicated, some Republican Senate candidates are focusing on criticizing Democratic incumbents who have signed on to a legislative fix.

At least three Senate nominees have come out on the attack against a proposal led by Judiciary ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California that would bar parents and children from being separated by the Homeland Security Department except in unusual cases, such as when the parent does not have custodial rights.

The Feinstein measure has the unanimous support of the Senate Democratic Conference.

Patrick Morrisey, the West Virginia attorney general who is running against Sen. Joe Manchin III, charged that the Feinstein legislation would benefit drug dealers and those engaged in human trafficking.

“Of course there should be steps taken to keep families together in a humane way at the border, and Congress must change the laws to make that happen,” Morrisey said in a statement. “This does not excuse Joe Manchin joining with liberals in Washington to reinstate the dangerous catch and release, open-border policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”

Missouri Senate candidate Josh Hawley — like Morrisey a state attorney general, and who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill — accused Senate Democrats of letting criminals use kids as human shields to prevent enforcement.

“[McCaskill] is currently supporting legislation … that will essentially allow any illegal immigrant who brings a child with him to escape into the interior of the country — no questions asked,” Hawley told “The Marc Cox Morning Show” on Tuesday. “I mean, it is an absolutely unbelievable position, when what Congress needs to do is pass sensible legislation that allows the administration to enforce our laws, to keep children and families together — there at the border, not release them into the country — this can be sensibly done. Congress should have done it a long time ago.”

GOP Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania took a similar approach, taking a swipe at his midterm opponent, Democrat Bob Casey.

“This flawed proposal encourages people to bring children on a long and dangerous journey to the United States, making our illegal immigration problem worse. Instead of endorsing catch and release, Congress could override the Flores Settlement so we can detain families together while they await expedited hearings,” he said in a statement. “While I vehemently disagree with Bob Casey’s anti-American worker policies, I commend Bob Casey for finally showing his true colors as a supporter of this dangerous open border policy.”

Barletta was referring to the response to Reno v. Flores, which resulted in minimum treatment standards for minor children detained as part of immigration enforcement actions. As a practical matter, under the “zero-tolerance” policy now being deployed by President Donald Trump, parents and children are being separated so that the minors can be in custody of the Health and Human Services Department while parents are in adult detention facilities.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas is leading the effort to craft a response on the Republican side, but it was unclear on Tuesday if there would be meaningful negotiations between the two parties.

Cornyn said changes in legislation would seek to ensure that families are not separated and that claims by families could be “adjudicated within a matter of days.”

He also said in response to a reporter question that he’s open to the bill including more funding for judges to speed up the work.

“What we’re trying to do is to respond to this as an emergency matter because of the public concern and move them to the head of the line. And so we think that we can accomplish that,” Cornyn said.

Despite public statements by Trump and senior members of his administration, the executive branch could put a halt to the families being separated through an administrative directive, such as the one from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that initiated the zero-tolerance policy this spring. 

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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