Minnesota Democrats called on the White House Tuesday to reverse the "zero tolerance'' policy that's separated immigrant families and their children at the southern border.
DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor, held a press conference to condemn the policy, which calls for increased prosecution of adults trying to cross the border. As a result, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents between April and May, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Walz is supporting a House resolution opposing the policy and signed on to the Keep Families Together Act in the House, which would ban family separations except in specific cases where the child is being abused or trafficked by his or her parents.
"It is immoral, it is barbaric. We can do better," Walz said. "This is not who we are. There are ways to talk about immigration, there are ways to talk about immigration enforcement that keeps true to our values."
He also took aim at the Republican gubernatorial candidates in the race, calling on Tim Pawlenty and Jeff Johnson to "take a stand" on the issue. His press conference comes just one day before President Donald Trump is set to visit Duluth for a campaign rally.
"Are they OK with families and children being separated from their parents?" Walz said. "If not, speak up with moral clarity."
Separately, gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Lori Swanson signed on with 19 other Democratic attorneys general to a letter demanding an end to the separations. The state prosecutors say in a letter to the Trump administration that the policy is inhumane and draconian.
The letter warned it may violate due process and children's rights. "Put simply, the deliberate separation of children and their parents who seek lawful asylum in America is wrong," the state officials wrote. "This practice is contrary to American values and must be stopped."
Retiring 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who is running for lieutenant governor alongside Swanson, is sponsoring legislation similar to the Keep Families Together Act. “Putting young children in cages is not border protection," he said in a statement. "It is child abuse, and it is time to put a stop to it."
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he will refuse to deploy "National Guard personnel, equipment, or other resources" to help the federal government enforce any immigration policies until they end the new zero tolerance policy.
Both of Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, are also criticizing the Trump administration for the policy. Smith has even called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign from her post after Nielsen said the administration does not have a separation policy, "period."
“She’s denied that this is happening at all, and then said that she ‘wouldn’t apologize’ for what’s happening to families," Smith said in a Facebook post. “Kirstjen Nielsen has lost the credibility and the moral authority to lead this agency.”
It's not just Minnesota Democrats pushing back on the "zero tolerance" policy. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents Minnesota's 3rd District, released a statement urging the Department of Homeland Security to reverse the decision. He has not signed on to support the Keep Families Together Act.
“The United States should not forcibly break up families," Paulsen said. "That is just not what America is about."
Dean Phillips, the Democratic candidate running in the 3rd District this fall, said Paulsen should go to Trump's rally in Duluth and voice his opposition in person to the policy. “President Trump cannot come to Minnesota believing that we condone the use of children as pawns," Phillips said in a statement.
MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report.
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