Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Tuesday said Democrats’ anti-family separation bill would be “better called the Child Trafficking Encouragement Act,” even though the bill includes protections for children suspected to be the victims of trafficking, as has been the practice in the past.
Dems' Keep Families Together Act is better called the Child Trafficking Encouragement Act. Show up at border with a minor & call him your child, then you get released into the US! Children will be abducted & sold to drug cartels & slave-traders as a free ticket into US.
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) June 19, 2018
All of the Senate’s 47 Democrats and two independents support Feinstein’s “Keep Families Together Act.”
The short bill prohibits the government “from removing a child from his or her parent or legal guardian, at or near the port of entry or within 100 miles of the border of the United States” unless certain qualifications are met, one of those being if authorities believe “the child is a victim of trafficking or is at significant risk of becoming a victim of trafficking.”
Feinstein spokesperson Ashley Schapitl told TPM that Cotton was wrong: “Senator Feinstein’s legislation bars separation except in the cases of abuse or trafficking,” she said. “If children are being trafficked and child welfare specialists determine that it’s in their best interest to be separated, separation is allowed.”
Prior to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ April “zero tolerance” prosecution announcement — in which he told U.S. attorneys to prosecute everyone apprehended at the border, leading to a spike in family separations — families were still separated when border agents suspected trafficking.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recognized as much in a press briefing Monday: “We have a long existing policy — multiple administrations have followed — that outline when we may take action to protect children,” she said.
However, the Trump administration’s new policy swept up all families into the same separation process: By charging everyone caught crossing the border with a crime — even those seeking asylum — Sessions essentially erased the difference, in U.S. attorneys’ eyes, between trafficked children and those traveling with families or trusted guardians.
“There may have been some separation [under former President Barack Obama] if there was suspicion that the children were being trafficked or a claimed parent-child relationship did not actually exist,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told the Washington Post recently. “But nothing like the levels we are seeing today.”
This post has been updated.