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Texas leader to President Trump: Stop using immigrant children for political gain

In this June 1, 2018, file photo, children hold signs during a demonstration in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Miramar, Fla. The Trump administration's move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has turned into a full-blown crisis in recent weeks, drawing denunciation from the United Nations, Roman Catholic bishops and countless humanitarian groups.
In this June 1, 2018, file photo, children hold signs during a demonstration in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Miramar, Fla. The Trump administration's move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has turned into a full-blown crisis in recent weeks, drawing denunciation from the United Nations, Roman Catholic bishops and countless humanitarian groups. AP

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called on President Donald Trump to put politics aside and do the right thing.

Straus, the outgoing Republican House leader, asked the president to to end the policy that lets immigrant children be separated from their parents once they illegally cross the U.S. border.

"You have publicly suggested that your administration may end these policies if congressional Democrats agree to some of your border security objectives and positions," Straus wrote to the president Tuesday. "But it is wrong to use these scared vulnerable children as a negotiation tool.

"Their suffering should also not be used to deter illegal immigration," he wrote. "I believe it's important to start by halting the administration policies that have expanded forced family separations and then go about the work of reforming our immigration system and protecting public safety along the border and across our country."

The Trump administration weeks ago began enforcing a "zero tolerance policy" that prosecutes anyone caught illegally crossing the border. The goal was to prosecute as many offenders as possible.

When families are caught, the children have been taken from their parents and housed separately — sparking criticism from advocacy groups, regular citizens, even all former living first ladies.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families between April and May, prompting countless people across the country to write, call and email their Congress members and ask for something to be done.

A Republican House compromise immigration bill would end the family separation issue, but some Democrats have said they won't support it. Instead, they want the president to address the issue.

"Please listen to the growing number of Americans, faith leaders and elected officials from both parties who are voicing our concerns about this growing crisis," Straus wrote. "This is not a binary choice between rampant crime and tearing families apart.

"In light of potential harm being inflicted on these children and the ambiguity about their status after they're removed from these facilities, I ask that you please immediately rescind directives that have resulted in the increase in separations of children from their migrant parents."

Congressional efforts

Several members of Congress have said they are proposing legislation to stop immigrant families from being separated.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the Protect Kids and Parents Act designed to keep immigrant families intact. His plan keeps children with their parents, as long as the adults haven't been linked to criminal activity.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso Democrat challenging Cruz for his Senate seat on the November ballot, led a march recently to Tornillo, where many of the children are being housed, to protest the policy.

Straus encouraged Trump not to wait on Congress to take action, because who knows how long that might take.

"I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that General Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border," he wrote.

State lawmaker efforts

State lawmakers also are asking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to do something to stop children from being taken from their parents.

State Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, asked Abbott to not send the Texas National Guard to the border until federal officials stop taking immigrant children from their parents during their asylum requests.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, also sent a letter to Abbott, asking him to reach out to the president on behalf of all the children taken from their parents who can't.

"I implore you today to hear the cries of the little ones at our border who have been torn from their loving mothers and fathers," Villalba wrote in his letter. "These children are innocent.

"These children did not make the decision to violate our laws to be in this country, nor have they committed any crimes," he wrote. "Their parents did. But for the sins of their fathers, these little babies are suffering. Alone, scared and fearful."

Democrat Lupe Valdez, who is challenging Abbott in November for the governor's post, sent out a statement Tuesday asking the governor to speak out against separating these families at the state's border.

“Greg Abbott's continued silence is deafening," she said. "As children are being torn from their parents on our soil, the man who lectures us about morals and values has silently condoned this inhumanity.

"As we see images of children in cages, hear the painful wails of children suffering, and hear bipartisan opposition to this disgraceful policy, our Governor stays silent. A humanitarian crisis is developing in our state and our Governor refuses to act."

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