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Steller's Friday Notebook: Who took a stand, fell in line on family separation?

Steller's Friday Notebook: Who took a stand, fell in line on family separation?

Tim Steller

Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller

Our immigration laws and border problems are a hell of a puzzle, like a jigsaw without edge pieces, in kaleidoscopic colors.

You can understand why other people don’t put the immigration puzzle together the exact same way you would. Some might want to eliminate the diversity visa lottery, while others want to increase work visas, and others want to build a wall. There are endless permutations.

But the policy of deliberately separating children from their parents, turning children accompanied by their families into unaccompanied children — that’s not so complicated. It was, contrary to the Department of Homeland Security secretary’s claims, a new policy intended to discourage people from coming to the border to cross illegally or claim asylum. It was not an unintended side effect of a “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy, as I explained in a June 2 column.

And it served as a gut check for Arizona politicians, one of those rare issues in immigration where I believe there was a clear right or wrong answer. In this pass-fail test, trying to finesse family separation was a wrong answer. Speaking out directly or, better yet, acting out against the family-separation policy was the right answer.

It was easier for Democrats to give a right answer, because they don’t have any pressure to show loyalty to President Trump and his supporters. Most of them upheld their obligation, with local Democratic politicians like Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild coming out in opposition hard and early. It was a tougher situation for Republicans, especially those facing a primary election.

These are some of the reactions of our GOP elected officials to the initial policy of separating children from parents, before Trump reversed course.

Sen. John McCain came out hard against the policy Monday.

“The administration’s current family-separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded. The administration has the power to rescind this policy. It should do so now.”

Grade: Pass. He was firm in putting responsibility where it rightfully lay.

Sen. Jeff Flake raised questions about family separation early, in a June 16 letter co-written by Maine Sen. Susan Collins to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“We write regarding the safety and security of young children immigrating to the United States. Secretary Nielsen recently appeared before the U.S. Senate and testified that immigrant parents and children who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry to request asylum will not be separated. Despite Secretary Nielsen’s testimony, a number of media outlets have reported instances where parents and children seeking asylum at a port of entry have been separated.”

Grade: Pass. Flake objected on moral grounds later, and his earlier questions about asylum-seekers were important.

Rep. Martha McSally, the congresswoman who is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said Monday:

“We need to enforce our laws in a consistent and humane manner, and DHS should not have to choose between enforcing the law and keeping children with their parents. My immigration bill, which I’ve been working on since last September, fixes this by allowing children to stay with their parents as they undergo due process. I hope we can get a version of my bill out of the House this week and on the President’s desk immediately to address many urgent issues like this.”

Grade: Fail. McSally glossed over the president’s policy without opposing it on the way to promoting her own bill, which failed Thursday.

Gov. Doug Ducey, who is running for re-election and has a Republican challenger for the nomination, said  he opposed family separation at the Arizona-Mexico Commission summit last week.

“I don’t want to see children separated from their parents. My heart breaks for these families,” Ducey said. “At the same time, we need to look at the role of parental responsibility when an adult is approaching our border conducting illegal activity with a child.”

Grade: Fail. In this and other comments, Ducey expressed sympathy but didn’t seem to appreciate that in most cases asylum-seekers are not breaking the law, even if they cross the border between the ports of entry, as long as they try to approach a government officer to turn themselves in.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced his opposition to the policy in a tweet that was a bit soft for me, but quickly sharpened the point in a follow-up tweet.

“The federal government needs to secure the border without taking a 2 yr old kid away from their mom. We can secure the border now without separating families. Ultimately, Congress needs to come up with a long-term solution, or we will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis.”

Grade: Pass. Brnovich, a Republican running for re-election, was direct in opposing the policy.

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller had a predictably negative view when the board considered a resolution Tuesday opposing family separation, but fellow Republican Supervisor Steve Christy’s stated reasoning came as a surprise to some.

“I won’t be supporting this resolution. This is a tragic result of those who don’t believe in legal immigration and continue to use their children as pawns and shields to promote an open border policy without comprehensive immigration reform.”

Grade: Fail. If he thinks Guatemalan migrants are trying to promote any policy, not simply fleeing their situations, he’s misunderstanding the issue.

DuceyBots are born

The governor’s re-election campaign began this week, and with it was born a crop of bots.

These were Twitter accounts that appeared early this week and vigorously supported Ducey, using the #SecureAZ hashtag. Reporters like my colleague Hank Stephenson started checking into who these new Twitter users are and found they were fake profiles.

By using reverse-image searches, which allow you to find the source of a photo on the internet, Stephenson was able to show that the images on the accounts belonged to, among others, an Irish singer; a Brit who works at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; and a Chicago counselor.

The coach of the Azerbaijani national judo team also got into the act. His photo was used on a fictitious account bearing the name of Robert Schmidt, who described himself as “Proud Arizonan, Republican, Ducey 2018 and Trump 2020.”

The purpose of bots is to create the appearance of support for a person or point of view. When my colleague Joe Ferguson asked Ducey about the bots Thursday in Tucson, the governor responded, “With all the issues we need to deal with in state government, Joe, you’re going to ask me about bots?”

GOP candidacies survive

Last week I noted that two congressional candidates for the GOP nomination in Tucson-area districts were having their petitions challenged. Well, they’ll both be on the ballot.

Nick Pierson, who is running in Congressional District 3, will be on the ballot, as will Wendy Rogers, who is running in Congressional District 1. Both will face incumbent Democrats, Raúl Grijalva in CD3 and Tom O’Halleran in CD1, if they win the nomination.

Contact Steller at 807-7789 or On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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