White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Sunday said that “nobody likes” the Justice Department’s family-separation policy at the southern border, even as top administration officials are defending the practice.
Conway also falsely claimed that the policy, which mandates that undocumented children be separated from their parents if they come to the U.S. illegally through the U.S.-Mexico border, came about as the result of a law passed by Congress.
“Nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” Conway said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience... I will tell you that nobody likes this policy.”
But she suggested that the best way to end the practice would be to address the immigration system as a whole, rather than have President Donald Trump reverse the policy on his own—leading critics to suggest that the Trump administration was using the policy as a bargaining chip in order to score the president’s desired immigration reforms.
“The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board,” Conway said.
Conway objected to the suggestion that she was using the family-separation policy as “leverage.” But Democrats, who have drafted legislation that would overturn the policy, noted that Trump could direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the practice at any time.
“What the administration is doing is they’re using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build their wall,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said on Meet the Press. “And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress. It’s, I think, deeply unethical.”
Meanwhile, the White House’s immigration hardliners are defending the so-called “zero tolerance” policy, which was put into place earlier this year. Top administration officials, including Sessions and White House chief of staff John Kelly, have argued that the policy acts as a deterrent to limit the number of illegal border crossings. Between mid-April and the end of May, around 2,000 children were separated from their parents, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law,” Stephen Miller, the president’s top policy adviser, told The New York Times.
White House officials, from the president to Conway, have yet to develop a unified messaging strategy on the controversial issue, which has gained renewed attention in recent weeks amid a series of heartbreaking stories stemming from the policy. Conway on Sunday falsely claimed that a law passed by Congress is responsible for the separation of families at the border. Trump himself has also claimed as much, even though no such law exists, and the policy was implemented and is being enforced by the executive branch.
“Congress passed a law that it is a crime—this is a congressional law from many years ago. It is a crime to enter this country illegally. So if they don’t like that law, they should change it,” Conway said.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are at a standstill even though the family-separation policy has drawn bipartisan criticism. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) authored legislation that would scrap the policy, and 43 Senate Democrats have co-sponsored the effort. But Republicans, who began speaking out en masse against the policy last week, are divided on how to address the issue, and none have signed onto Feinstein’s effort.
House Republicans tucked a reversal of the policy into a comprehensive immigration package that lawmakers will vote on next week but stands little chance of passing. On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) plans to re-introduce a previous piece of legislation that he co-authored and tweak it such that family awaiting court proceedings at the southern border will be required to be kept together.