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June 18, 2018

King: “We Do Not Take Children Hostage in Legislative Negotiations”

In speech on Senate floor, King disputes arguments in favor of Administration’s family separation policy, urges President to end practice.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech on the floor of the Senate, U.S. Senator Angus King today criticized the Administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, which has resulted in more than 2,000 immigrant children being separated from their families in the last six weeks. In his remarks, Senator King pushed back against justifications that have been used in support of the policy, including that it serves as a deterrent, is morally justified by the Bible, or that the policy serves as a bargaining chip to force an immigration deal, as well as establishing that this is an Administration policy, not one mandated under the law.  

“Difficult issues are amenable to humane and decent solutions. Solutions that take into account our values, that take into account the underlying principles upon which this country is based and this is one that could be resolved without this drastic policy of separating children from their parents,” said Senator King. “…This problem, Madame President, could be resolved by a phone call from President of the United States to the Attorney General. This is not the law. This is a policy of enforcement adopted by this administration in April, implemented in May, and has brought us to the place where 2,000 children have been forcibly separated from their parents…

“Number one, and I think this is important because this is lost in the discussion, asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants. They are coming to this country under the law, they are allowed to come to the country and then prove their case, and they should have an opportunity to prove their case… These are almost entirely people who are seeking asylum here because they are fleeing violence in their own country. This country was built on asylum seekers. The Pilgrims were asylum seekers. The Catholics who came to Maryland were asylum seekers. The Irish who came here as a result of a famine were asylum seekers. The Jews who came here in the 30’s and 40’s during the period of the Holocaust were asylum seekers – and I should say that one of the darkest periods of this country’s history was the turning away of the U.S.S. Saint Louis in the late 30’s where a third of their population of Jewish people went back to Europe and died in the Holocaust.

This country’s based upon some basic principles, some of which are stated very unequivocally on the base of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’ That has been the promise of America from the very beginning…

“…The next justification I’ve heard is a deterrent. It will be a deterrent…Can you justify any inhumane treatment? ‘We’ll torture you if you come across the border.’ That would be a deterrent, but it doesn’t make it right. The next that I heard is that it’s a bargaining chip for our negotiations. We’ll bring the Democrats to the table and that’s when we’ll talk about immigration, but we’re not going to change this policy until then because it’s a bargaining chip. Madame President, we do not take children hostage in legislative negotiations. And that’s what this is. Let’s call it what it is. It is literally taking children hostage to be a bargaining chip in a legislative negotiation on the broad panoply of issues involved in immigration. That’s wrong. It’s a basic principle of everything we hold dear that we don’t negotiate with hostage takers…

“…The final justification that I’ve heard, and frankly the reason I’m here today because it just tore it for me is the Bible. That somehow this is justified by the Christian Bible. By Romans 13, which says you should obey the law. Yes, that’s what it says. But it also says the law should be based upon love. And I would add, Madame President, that very provision, Romans 13, was used 150 years ago to justify slavery… For me, as a Christian, it all comes down to Matthew 25: ‘The King said, ‘Come, you are blessed, take your inheritance, for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“…A phone call this afternoon from the President of the United States to the Attorney General can end this obscene practice… I hope the President will make that phone call, solve this problem this afternoon, and then we can get about solving some of the larger problems he and I and everyone else in this body are concerned about. But let’s not do it with children in cages anywhere in America.”

Senator King has been a strong opponent of this policy, and is an original cosponsor of the Keep Families Together Act, which would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from continuing this policy, and joined a group of his colleagues in sending a letter urging the Administration to end the policy immediately.

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