Members of Congress are right to be outraged by the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families, but there’s an acceptable way to express that anger, according to the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives — and it’s not by shouting at the president.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it was inappropriate of members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to yell at President Donald Trump in protest of his administration’s systematic separation of migrant children, some of whom are being held in cages, from their families.
In a tense encounter at the Capitol on Tuesday, five members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus protested and shouted at Trump as he left a meeting. “Mr. President, don’t you have kids? Don’t you have kids, Mr. President?” Rep. Juan Vargas of California yelled as Trump walked away. Members also held up signs that read, “Families Belong Together.”
Hoyer found the tactics “not appropriate,” suggesting in an interview with CNN on Thursday that his Democratic colleagues should have chosen another venue to make their point. “But having said that, there are very strong feelings, and nobody engenders stronger feelings and says worse things or acts in a more confrontational manner than the president of the United States,” he added. “That does not, however, justify us following suit.”
Last week, Trump claimed that he was unable to stop the family separation policy through executive order. He reversed course on Wednesday, signing an order to give “Congress an opportunity to address family separation.” The administration appears to be moving toward a policy of indefinitely detaining families together, and the order did not create a clear mechanism for reuniting the thousands of children already torn from their parents. (On Thursday night, an administration official told the Associated Press that about 500 of the children had been returned to their families.)
Between early May and the time Trump ended the separations on Wednesday, at least 2,342 children were taken from their parents after crossing the southern U.S. border. The policy, which followed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision in early April to prosecute individuals who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border — a so-called zero tolerance approach — has triggered mass outrage in recent weeks and has been decried by liberals and conservatives alike. Last week, Democratic members of Congress temporarily blocked the entrance to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C., to protest family separation.
Hoyer has repeatedly spoken out against the separations and condemned the executive order as failing to address a crisis of Trump’s “own making.” When asked by The Intercept about the appropriate way to protest, Hoyer said that he believes that Congress, even when responding to inhumane policies, must maintain “a level of decorum.”
“As I said in my interview today, the President’s vile comments and reprehensible behavior and inhumane policies engender strong condemnation and rightfully result in deep frustration,” Hoyer said in an emailed statement provided by his office. “I do believe that the institution of Congress must uphold a level of decorum, even though the President does not. The CHC has been passionate defenders of immigrants and families, and I support their right to protest in this fight to stop child abuse, reunite families, and protect DREAMers.”
“This is a very unique set of circumstances, and it requires a unique set of extraordinary efforts.”
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, CHC chair and New Mexico candidate for governor, defended the tactics in an interview with Fox News the day of the protest. “This is a very unique set of circumstances, and it requires a unique set of extraordinary efforts,” she said. Reps. Adriano Espaillat of New York, Lucille Roybal-Allard of California, and Nanette Diaz Barragán of California were the other CHC members who participated in the Tuesday protest.
People across the country have also been protesting against the administration’s immigration policies. Activists from the metro D.C. chapter of Democratic Socialists of America interrupted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner Tuesday night, leading chants of “Shame!” and driving her out of a Mexican restaurant in downtown Washington. On Wednesday, the news outlet Splinter published a cellphone number that purportedly belongs to top White House adviser Stephen Miller, encouraging readers to contact the architect of a number of controversial immigration policies, including the forced family separations and Trump’s travel ban. In Portland, Oregon, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shut down its field office on Wednesday and kept it closed on Thursday following a dayslong demonstration. Hundreds flocked to LaGuardia Airport in New York on Wednesday night to show solidarity with migrant children, and the following day, mothers and their infants occupied an ICE office in Manhattan for an hour.
CBP will no longer be referring parents of migrant children for prosecution, the Washington Post reported Thursday, though the Department of Justice said its “zero tolerance” policy remains in place.
The administration has blamed the family separations on the Flores settlement, a 1997 federal court decision that says minors in federal custody cannot be detained for longer than 20 days. The administration claimed it was “forced” to send the children into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, since, under Flores, the minors could not stay in immigration detention with their parents, who were being prosecuted for crossing the border. The Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal district court to modify the Flores agreement to allow for prolonged family detention.