Tester urges Congress to resolve family separations amid White House crackdown

Sen. Jon Tester on Tuesday said President Donald Trump and two key members of his administration could end the White House policy of separating children from their parents on the nation’s southern border, and do it with a single phone call.

But the White House has doubled down on its policy and Tester doesn’t expect that phone call to come. Instead, Montana’s senior senator is urging fellow lawmakers to work through the approaching weekend to craft a bipartisan deal to end what many are calling an American travesty.

“Our phones are lighting up over this issue, and they should be – Montanans are not happy,” Tester said. “The bottom line is, the administration started a policy that must stop. You cannot rip children away from their parents on the border. It’s not an American value and it’s certainly not a Montana value.”

President Donald Trump, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Neilsen, the secretary of homeland security, all defended the policy on Monday. But critics have grown to include members of both parties, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John McCain.

Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, also Republicans, have called the policy wrong, though solutions have quickly become politicized. Tester has signed onto the Keeping Families Together Act, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.

“I’ve signed on to Sen. Feinstein’s legislation because there wasn’t any other tool out there,” Tester said. “I don’t care if it’s a Republican or a Democratic proposal, it needs to be bipartisan. We’re going to look for opportunities to fix the problem, and I’ll look at any bill out there and we’ll work with anyone who will work with us.”

Tester said the Senate should remain in session until a solution is reached.

“The secretary of homeland security could stop it, and Sessions could stop it, but they’re not doing anything,” Tester said. “They could stop it within minutes. The administration set it up and they could pull it down. But assuming they’re not going to do it, let’s stay here however long it takes to get it done.”

Montanans for Immigrant Justice and other organizations are planning a protest of the White House policy on Wednesday at 5 p.m. outside the Missoula County Detention Center.

“This is beyond all partisan politics,” said MIJ co-director Rebecca Weston. “These policies are in violation of international human rights, civil rights and human dignity. This is about moral decency.”