Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested Thursday that Democrats don’t care that much about the plight of immigrant families at the border, taking a page straight from the playbook of President Donald Trump.
“I’m beginning to think that the Democrats who make this alternative argument are less interested in keeping families intact and more interested in having open borders,” Ryan said at a press conference.
“And the last thing we want to do is have an incentive for illegal immigration and open borders. We want to keep families intact and enforce our laws and secure our border,” he continued, adding that drugs coming across the border contribute to the opioid crisis.
Politicians from both parties routinely accuse one another of caring more about politics than issues. But Ryan’s comments were inaccurate ― Democrats are not pushing for open borders ― and they were a milder version of Trump’s message. Anyone who opposes the president’s immigration views, according to Ryan and Trump, is a willing enabler or even supporter of illegal border crossings and drugs coming in from Mexico.
Ryan was referencing the lack of Democratic support for Republican legislation up for a vote later Thursday that would, among other things, allow kids to be indefinitely locked up in immigrant detention with their parents. The legislation would also make changes to protection so some migrants could be deported more quickly or turned away at the border.
Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday framed as ending the policy of separating migrant families that cross the border illegally, which has caused more than 2,000 children to be split from their parents. The separations are part of a zero tolerance policy that seeks to criminally prosecute all immigrants apprehended crossing the border illegally, even if it means putting them in jail while their children are sent to other government-run facilities.
Trump did not end the zero tolerance policy, but said that families would remain detained together while the parents undergo criminal and immigration proceedings ― something that can take months or years. There are currently limits on how long children can be locked up, but Trump is seeking to have those overturned in court and also for Congress to address the limits with legislation.
A number of Democrats and immigrant rights advocates have argued that mass family detention is also bad for kids. Most Democrats and outside opponents of Trump’s policy aren’t in favor of allowing immigrants to walk across the border without being arrested. Instead, their preferred solution is for the government to use discretion and put families directly in immigration proceedings rather than prosecuting the parents. This would mean immigrants who cross illegally would still face potential deportation if a judge finds they are ineligible for asylum or other relief.
Democrats and immigrant rights advocates have also called for families arrested at the border to be monitored using alternatives to detention that allow them to live outside government facilities while they undergo immigration proceedings.
Simply opening up the borders to anyone and everyone, or declining to arrest families at all, is not a proposal that many Democrats are making.
Republicans drafted both of the immigration bills up for a vote on Thursday without the help of Democrats. Both bills are expected to fail due not just to Democratic opposition but also to the fact that Republicans, who have a majority of the House, don’t appear to have the backing votes.
Ryan said that if the bills fail, he expects Congress will go back to pushing for Trump’s immigration platform.
He accused Democrats of failing to try to address immigration at all, noting, correctly, that former President Barack Obama did not push for reform when Democrats controlled both the House and Senate early into his presidency.
Obama did push for immigration reform in 2013, and it passed the Senate. That bill never got a vote in the House.
Still, Ryan said that Republicans are the only ones who want to reform immigration policy to address unauthorized border crossings. He also highlighted the likelihood that Democrats in the Senate would block any bill the House did manage to pass.
“So here we are with filibusters galore in the Senate, trying to fix this problem when the Democrats have taken a walk on this thing,” Ryan said.