After demanding for days that President Trump end the separation of illegal immigrant families at the border, Democrats responded to his executive order stopping the practice with only new appeals -- drawing GOP accusations that they're more interested in using the issue as a political cudgel.
The president, rarely one to back down from a fight, signed the order Wednesday allowing children to stay with parents caught crossing the border illegally. The move followed national outrage over the impact of the Justice Department's “zero tolerance” policy referring all illegal border crossers for prosecution. Children were separated due to a 1997 order and related decisions that forbid them from being detained with adults for extended periods.
For a solid week, the administration was pilloried by Democrats, journalists, activists and even members of his own party.
Trump sought to ease the outrage with his order. But, keen to show his base he's not softening on immigration either, he vowed to continue the "zero tolerance" approach, while calling on Congress to seek a more lasting fix.
Democrats were not impressed. Within minutes of Trump's oversized signature being displayed for the cameras, they turned their focus to the “indefinite imprisonment of families.”
“This Executive Order doesn’t fix the crisis. Indefinitely detaining children with their families in camps is inhumane and will not make us safe,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted: “This isn’t over.”
“Separating kids is unacceptable – but indefinite imprisonment of families is still cruel & inhumane,” she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said that such detention was “extremely troubling” and the order was “the next step in the Trump administration’s larger agenda to eliminate basic protections for asylum seekers.”
“Let us be clear that the executive order that he issued together goes nowhere, nowhere, nowhere as far as it should go,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said on the Senate floor, before echoing the concerns about detaining families together.
“Is that better than them being separated from their parents? I guess,” Sanders shrugged. “But does anyone really believe we should be imprisoning for an indefinite period of time, little children?”
Republicans countered that families are not actually being held indefinitely and are going through due process. Further, they cited the Democratic shrug-off as proof that they were trying to keep the issue hot for the November midterms.
“Even though the president resolved the family separation issue on a temporary basis, they condemn him for that,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said on “Fox & Friends.” “I don’t think they have any interest in working constructively with us but rather use this in the 2018 midterm elections.”
“The ink isn’t even dry on the new executive order ending separation policy & some Democrats already arguing that keeping families together isn’t enough,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. “Now they want them & their parents released after unlawful entry knowing full well that high % will never appear for hearing.”
He also called claims that the U.S. would be detaining immigrant children indefinitely “patently false.”
Trump also responded to the outrage, calling for Democratic leaders to come to the table and do a "real deal."
"Schumer used to want Border security -- now he'll take crime," Trump tweeted, while highlighting past Democratic tough talk on immigration.
The Democratic outrage following the executive order was echoed by allies in liberal media and activist groups.
“Yay, no more baby internment camps,” said Samantha Bee, host of “Full Frontal.” “Just regular internment camps. Cool, that’s what we call a win in 2018!”
“Mommy and me jails are not a solution,” she said, before urging her audience to “keep fighting.”
Democrats also expressed concern about the more than 2,000 children separated before the executive order went into effect, and whether they would be reunited with their families. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the order a "relief" but said that he hopes that the children are quickly reunited.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement: "For those children still in Border Patrol custody, we are reuniting them with parents or legal guardians returned to Border Patrol custody following prosecution."
The call for family reunification became a bipartisan issue in recent days, and the administration may still face bipartisan pressure to ensure the children in custody are brought back with their parents.
But Republicans bristled at suggestions that the families should simply be released. Meanwhile, protesters signaled the executive order would do little to calm the tensions in the streets.
In Portland, ICE offices were to remain closed on Thursday due to left-wing protesters occupying the area outside the office.
In New York, demonstrators flocked to La Guardia airport after reports on social media that separated children might be arriving on flights. An American Airlines spokesman told The New York Times that a flight was delayed from Texas until the airline was assured that a group of seven teenage boys were not separated from their parents.
Left-wing activists and journalists have repeatedly called for the hounding of administration officials. On Wednesday, it was reported that one of the socialist protesters who harassed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a restaurant was a Department of Justice employee.
“If kids don’t eat in peace, you don’t eat in peace,” a protester was heard yelling.