Divided US Congress votes — again — on immigration reform

An immigrant from El Salvador and his 10-year-old son spend time together after being released from detention

Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump urged divided Republicans Wednesday to rally behind an immigration overhaul — though it appears doomed to fail — after a judge dealt a new blow to his “zero tolerance” border policy by ordering that separated families be swiftly reunited.

The repeatedly-delayed vote marks the umpteenth attempt by a deadlocked Congress to legislate a broad solution to the problem of illegal immigration — against the backdrop of a bitter political fight over the separation of migrant families at the Mexican border.

Forced to halt the practice last week in the face of international outrage, Trump suffered a new setback Tuesday as a California judge ordered the children still separated — who number more than 2,000 — to be reunited with their families within 30 days.

But Trump has made clear he still intends immigration to be at the heart of the battle for November’s midterm elections, urging Republicans to show their commitment to the hard line that got him elected in 2016 — while ramping up the rhetoric linking weak borders with gang crime, and blaming Democrats for both.

“HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL,” Trump tweeted ahead of the vote, set for early Wednesday afternoon in the House of Representatives, which the Republicans control.

“PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS & SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME. WIN!” he tweeted, even as he acknowledged the bill has no chance of getting enough Democratic votes to pass in the Senate.

On Tuesday the president was handed an important — if largely symbolic — victory on another key plank of his migration policy as the Supreme Court voted to uphold his controversial travel ban targeting five Muslim-majority nations.

Trump pounced on the decision as “a tremendous success and victory for the American people.”

Immigration has long been among the most intractable issues in American politics, with Congress repeatedly failing to pass comprehensive reform.

Crafted as a compromise between the party’s hard-right and moderate wings, the latest Republican bill had been slated for a vote last week, but was twice pushed back for lack of support, in an embarrassing display of internal divisions.

The president himself has sent out mixed messages about the legislation — at one point telling Republicans they were “wasting their time” trying to reform immigration before the November elections.

The bill addresses several key Trump priorities, such as curbs on legal immigration, $25 billion in funding for his proposed border wall and a path to citizenship for young immigrants known as “Dreamers,” brought to the United States illegally as children.

And it would end the family separations that began in early May as a result of the administration’s policy of prosecuting anyone who crosses the border illegally, even to seek asylum. 

Many are destitute people fleeing gang violence and other turmoil in Central America.

– ‘Crying themselves to sleep’ –

Trump last week signed an executive order to halt the practice assailed in America and worldwide as inhumane, but made no specific provisions for families already split apart.

On Tuesday night a US district judge in San Diego, Dana Sabraw, ordered that separated families be reunited within 30 days — and two weeks in cases involving children under five.

Sabraw made the sternly worded decision in response to a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a seven-year-old girl who was separated from her Congolese mother and a 14-year-old boy who was separated from his Brazilian mother.

The judge also issued an injunction against any more separations, and gave US federal authorities 10 days to allow parents to call their children if they are not already in touch with them.

The ruling came after attorneys-general of 18 mainly Democratic states also filed a lawsuit challenging the family separations.

The ACLU argued that the administration has no real plan for reuniting the than 2,000 children in federal care with their families. Some are just toddlers, or even infants.

Every night small children “are crying themselves to sleep wondering if they will ever see their parents again,” said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt.