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Two years into escalating ICE enforcement, one Republican admits policy is “a problem”
Hundreds of immigration activists, clergy members and others participate in a protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies in front of the Federal Building on January 11 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Trump administration’s immigration policies have attracted increased scrutiny in recent days amid ongoing reports about undocumented immigrants and their children being separated at the border — and 1,500 of those children ultimately becoming “lost.”

On Sunday, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio spoke out against that policy, saying in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation that he would be open to changing the laws so that undocumented families would not be separated after crossing the border.

“We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with. The ideal scenario is that families be kept together and returned expeditiously back to their country of origin,” Rubio said Sunday.

“We sympathize with people that are coming here. America is the most generous country in the world and ideally you wouldn’t put people through additional trauma once they came into the United States,” he continued.

Trump has put the blame on Democrats for the policy, tweeting on Saturday that he would end the “horrible law” if Democrats supported his more controversial immigration policies, such as ending the diversity visa lottery and so-called “chain migration” and building the border wall.

While Trump can put the blame on Democrats, however, the controversial family separation policy is his own administration’s making. Though a 2008 “catch and release” law implemented under President George W. Bush provides for unaccompanied minors crossing the border to be released in the “least restrictive setting,” the law does not require families to be separated, the Associated Press noted.

In the past, parents and children who have arrived together into the U.S. have been processed together in immigration court — a policy that the Trump administration is now changing. Recently, the Trump administration has instituted a new policy that allows them to criminally prosecute the adult family members while releasing the children by splitting up families. The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed suit against the family separation policy in cases of asylum, claiming that the policy violates the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In an interview with NPR, Trump chief of staff John Kelly called the new policy a “tough deterrent,” adding that the children “will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”

The news of the family separations and lost children has sparked widespread outrage, though the new policy is the latest move in a long line of harsh, anti-immigrant actions undertaken during the Trump administration.

Trump’s presidency has been marked by tales of harrowing experiences undocumented immigrants have endured. Immigration arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has increased dramatically under the Trump administration; according to numbers released in December 2017, ICE arrests increased by 40% after Trump took office, as compared with the same period a year earlier.

These surges in ICE raids have made children afraid to go to school and made undocumented immigrants remove themselves from potentially necessary government programs, such as food stamps. In addition to families at the border, families already residing in the U.S. have also been torn apart by deportation; those targeted have included a father of a 5-year-old with leukemia, who was slated for deportation but ultimately given a one-year work permit, along with a Mexican father who had lived in the U.S. for 30 years, a Polish doctor who had a green card, and countless others.

Jesus Berrones holds his five-year-old son with leukemia, Jayden, as his wife, Sonia, looks on at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix on Feb. 12.
Jesus Berrones holds his five-year-old son with leukemia, Jayden, as his wife, Sonia, looks on at the Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix on Feb. 12. Anita Snow/AP

The administration has also not shied away from targeting hospitals and undocumented immigrants with medical issues. A 10-year-old with cerebral palsy was detained — though ultimately released — while being transported between two hospitals for emergency gall bladder surgery, while a woman waiting for emergency brain tumor surgery was forcibly moved to a detention facility. After they were reported to the authorities at a hospital, a couple in Texas had to agree to their arrest in order for their infant son to undergo surgery in another part of the state.

Though a federal court ruled that an undocumented teenager seeking an abortion couldn’t be prevented from doing so by the government, the administration has moved to further restrict immigrant women’s access to abortion care. The administration has also overturned a previous policy that allowed most pregnant women in custody to be released, which could lead to more pregnant women being held in detention facilities.

“It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust,” U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest said in a ruling concerning the detention of immigration activist Ravi Ragbir.

“We are not that country,” Forrest said.