Laura Bush Jumpstarts a Wave of Bipartisan Backlash Against Trump’s Policy of Separating Immigrant Families

June 18, 2018, 6:00 PM UTC

Former First Lady Laura Bush spoke out against the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border Sunday, sparking an outpouring of bipartisan dissent. Bush shared her opinion in a Washington Post column on Father’s Day, when many were thinking of the families torn apart by the Trump administration.

“I live in a border state,” writes Bush. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Bush continued to condemn the practice of warehousing children and constructing tent cities for their detention, comparing this practice to the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, “now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

The separation of thousands of families at the country’s border began with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s announcement of a “zero-tolerance” policy this spring. Families arriving at the border anywhere outside of designated ports are declared criminals; parents are taken into custody and the children removed. The number of children being held by the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) has reportedly reached 11,500, forcing the construction of mass detention centers and launching a “mental health crisis.”

President Trump continues to falsely blame Democrats for these actions, despite the fact that there is no U.S. law that requires the separation of families and senators on both sides of the aisle have spoken out against the “zero-tolerance” policy.

Following Bush’s remarks, First Lady Melania Trump also shared her thoughts on the issue in a statement issued on Sunday. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” said her communications director, Stephanie Grisham. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

In addition, in a rare rebuke by a former president, Bill Clinton also spoke out against the Trump Administration’s family separation policy on Sunday, tweeting “These children should not be a negotiating tool.”

Legislation is already in the works to bar the actions resulting from the “zero-tolerance” policy. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has collected 43 Democratic sponsors for a bill titled “Keep Families Together Act,” which will halt the separation of families at the border. She is seeking Republican support.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweeted that DHS has merely “continued the policy from previous Administrations,” only separating families “if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between ‘family’ members, or if the adult has broken a law.” Nielsen differentiated between those who arrive at designated ports as asylum seekers and those who arrive at other points. Some designated ports, however, are not accepting claims for asylum, and there have been reports of asylum-seekers being taken into custody regardless of their arrival location. Still more immigrants are simply unaware of the location of these designated ports.

President Trump, meanwhile, has continued to use this humanitarian crisis as a bargaining tool, saying he will not approve any changes to immigration law unless it provides full funding for his wall on the Mexico border.

“President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a frequent golf-partner to the president. “I’ll go tell him. If you don’t like families’ being separated, you can tell D.H.S. stop doing it.”