SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said Monday she is pushing a provision in a new immigration bill to end President Donald Trump's "horrible" policy of separating children from their immigrant parents at the border.
Love said Trump is expected to meet with the House Republican conference Tuesday to hear details of the legislation, which also calls for increasing border security and dealing with undocumented adults brought into the country illegally as children.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he wants to add his own amendment to the bill, to allow for ankle monitors to be put on parents trying to get into the U.S. who don't want to be separated from their children.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on the Trump policy Monday, saying the forced separations are harmful to families and encouraged "national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions."
The Most Rev. Oscar Solis, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, called for immigration laws to be enforced "with compassion, with recognition that we are the last hope for so many, and with the full understanding that individual human lives are at the heart of immigration issues."
The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Love said the administration's controversial zero-tolerance policy is "something that touches me personally" and raises the question of "who we are as Utahns and as Americans."
She said the policy, announced in early May by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is "horrible. You can see these children, these innocent children, being ripped from their families. It's absolutely terrible."
Love said her message to Trump is: "This is not a right or left issue. This is right or wrong. This is what it takes to be the leader of the free world. This is what it takes to be the leader of a free country, to be able to stand up and do the right thing."
The Republican president continues to blame Democrats for the policy that the government reports led to the separation of nearly 2,000 children from their families between April 19 and May 31.
Trump brought up the immigration issue at a meeting of the National Space Council, saying, "What's happening is so sad" but that Americans "want a safe country, and it starts with the borders. And that's the way it is."
Love, who faces a tough re-election challenge in the 4th District from Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, said she has been working since last week to include a provision dealing with a separation policy in a compromise immigration bill.
McAdams "supports ending this horrific policy," said his campaign manager, Andrew Roberts. He said Love's silence when the policy was ramped up in April "shows that she puts party loyalty to the president ahead of the needs of children and families."
Love said the revised bill is expected to come up for a vote in the House next week.
She is among a small group of largely moderate Republicans behind an attempt to force the House's GOP leadership to allow a vote on several pieces of immigration legislation through a rarely used discharge petition.
Changing the law to spell out that families crossing the border into the United States must be kept together when they are being held by the Department of Homeland Security will take power away from the president, Love said.
Immigrants, whether they are seeking asylum or are caught entering the country illegally, "won't be in limbo any longer," she said, subject to "someone changing their minds."
Trump initially said he would not support the compromise being worked on in the House, but then representatives from the White House said he would. Love said she did not know how the president will react to the latest version.
The LDS Church statement on the policy, from spokesman Eric Hawkins, said the church "has long expressed its position that immigration reform should strengthen families and keep them together. The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children.
"We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions," Hawkins said.
Bishop Solis said he support the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging the Trump administration to rescind the policy, not only on separating families but also denying asylum to domestic violence victims.
The policies, he said, "tear at our core values as a nation. We are, and must continue to be, a beacon of hope for families unable to find basic protections and pathways out of poverty within their home countries."
Stewart said he would like to see "a little more money" spent on family detention centers as part of the legislation but ankle monitors for parents, including asylum seekers, are a better solution with a much lower price tag.
"That would allow them to stay together as families and be in the community but at the same time we would know where they were and that they would come and show up for their detention hearing," he said.
Estimates show "you can keep someone on an ankle bracelet, for about $7 or $8 a day. To put them in a detention center is $50 per person, so I think it's much, much more efficient if we could do this," Stewart said.
The idea might be criticized, he said, "but let’s keep in mind we’re not going to put the bracelet on children. There is no easy solution to this. There is no solution that doesn’t create a potential for backlash one way or the other."
Stewart said he has bipartisan support for the amendment he intends to sponsor.
His Democratic opponent in the 2nd District, Shireen Ghorbani, said she backs it.
"If it is a proposal where we are using different kinds of technology to keep families together, it's definitely a step in the right direction," Ghorbani said. "Allowing parents to have ankle bracelets to be tracked I think is a much safer way for us to be addressing this issue."
Other members of Utah's congressional delegation also weighed in on the president's policy, which has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats around the country, including former first lady Laura Bush, who said it was cruel and immoral.
Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee and a candidate for U.S. Senate in Utah, tweeted a link Monday to an op-ed by Bush in the Washington Post, and wrote, "I agree that we need a more compassionate answer."
Jenny Wilson, Democratic candidate for Senate, tweeted: "I hope Congress will act to end the forced separation of families at the border."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called for a change in the president's policy.
"The United States should not separate children from their parents except in rare circumstances where the parent is a threat to the child," Lee said. "This does not appear to be the case for many separations currently occurring at our southern border."
Lee said in a statement that a solution needs to be found "that allows migrant families to pursue their asylum claims without overburdening our law enforcement infrastructure."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, agreed with the "sentiment behind" a statement made by Trump last week that appeared to criticize his own policy, according to his spokesman, Matt Whitlock.
Hatch said in a statement that while he recognizes "the difficulty the last two administrations have faced with regard to families illegally crossing the border, I wholeheartedly agree with the president's comments that a policy that leads to separating children from their families is wrong."
Utah's senior senator, who is not seeking re-election after 42 years in office, said he is "working with colleagues in both houses on a path forward that recognizes the need for compassion for children and families without incentivizing illegal border crossings. That solution can and should be bipartisan."
The newest member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he, "like so many Utahns, am extremely troubled by news reports of small children being separated from their parents at our southern border."
He said although he recognizes the "need to enforce our nation's immigration laws and to secure and protect our borders, I do not believe that separating families is consistent with who we are as a country — and it most certainly doesn't reflect the Utah values I was elected to represent in Congress."
Curtis said he will be at the House GOP meeting with Trump Tuesday and plans "to push very hard to see that the administration takes every effort to keep families together through the legal process determining their eligibility to remain in the U.S."
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has a separate provision in the compromise bill intended to make it easier for security to operate on federal lands along the border, said "due respect" must be given to families impacted by the policy.
"Compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. Our borders must be secured, and we must give due respect to the family unit," he said, adding that security "requires a wall and guaranteed access to the border for immigration agents."
Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted, "It is inhumane to forcefully and unnecessarily separate children from their parents. Let’s get past the blaming and shaming, halt this cruel policy, and find common sense federal legislative solutions."
The governor, who used the hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether, also tweeted that he has urged the state's congressional delegation to pursue solutions "posthaste."