GOP fears midterms backlash from breaking up families at the border

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's policy of taking immigrant children from their parents at the southern border may have been designed to push Democrats to the negotiating table in Congress — but it could end up costing Republican lawmakers.

"Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!" Trump wrote on Twitter Saturday. "This is why we need more Republicans elected in November."

But the policy, which has separated some 2,000 children from their parents in just six weeks, could have the opposite effect as anxious Republican lawmakers fear voters may see their party as heartless on immigration and punish them for it in November.

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MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent takes a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol agent looks for groups of asylum seekers crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: Central American asylum seekers wait as U.S. Border Patrol agents take groups of them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents take a group of Central American asylum seekers into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political-asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A Honduran mother holds her two-year-old as U.S. Border Patrol as agents review their papers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A two-year-old Honduran stands with her mother after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a Border Patrol processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: A U.S. Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and had become lost in the woods. They were then detained by Border Patrol agents and then sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
MCALLEN, TX - JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents detain a group of Central American asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The group of women and children had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is executing the Trump administration's 'zero tolerance' policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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The issue will "absolutely" be a factor in the midterm elections this fall, said a GOP operative working to elect Republicans to Congress, adding that "the images are devastating" for the GOP.

Trump tried a similar tactic last year related to the so-called Dreamers, revoking an executive order that granted them protections in an attempt to force Congress to pass legislation that included the border wall he ran on as a candidate.

But the effort backfired when federal courts stepped-in and restored the protections for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients.

With the Dreamers taken care of — for now — Democrats no longer had any reason to meet Trump's demands. A similar scenario is playing out now in that Democrats have managed, despite Trump's efforts, to place the blame for the border crisis squarely at his doorstep.

Meanwhile, Republicans, struggling to defend a policy that tears families apart, are starting to bend.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he's not comfortable with children being separated from their families and he added that it "needs to be addressed" with legislation.

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Border Patrol agents working along the US-Mexico border
A Border Patrol agent drives his ATV during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A border patrol agent carries a bale of marijuana following a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border Patrol agents are pictured during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Ladders collected and discarded by U.S. Border Patrol agents are pictured near a section of border fence in Hidalgo, Texas, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border Patrol agents keep watch during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Border patrol agents and a special operations group member from the Texas Ranger Division seize 297 pounds of marijuana following a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
An immigrant who jumped into a canal in an effort to escape capture after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border gives up and turns himself in to a border patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border patrol agents briefly rest after seizing 297 pounds of marijuana in a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Suspected drug mules are apprehended by border patrol agents following a drug bust at the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border patrol agents apprehend people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Border Patrol vehicle is seen by the current border fence in Sunland Park, U.S., in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A border patrol agent apprehends people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
An agent from the US Customs and Border Protection Agency patrols along the border between Santa Teresa, Nuevo Mexico State, in the US, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, in Mexico, on April 9, 2018 where the US plans to build a 32-km-long steel wall. Mexico is carrying out a sweeping review of its cooperation with the neighbouring United States because of 'blatant' tension with Donald Trump's administration, the foreign minister said Monday. / AFP PHOTO / HERIKA MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Border Patrol agent stands along the border fence on April 6, 2018 in Calexico, California. US President Donald Trump on April 5, 2018 said he would send thousands of National Guard troops to the southern border, amid a widening spat with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto. The anti-immigration president said the National Guard deployment would range from 2,000 to 4,000 troops, and he would 'probably' keep many personnel on the border until his wall is built -- spelling out a lengthy mission. / AFP PHOTO / Sandy Huffaker (Photo credit should read SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said that he is "100 percent supportive of keeping families together."

Meadows added: "Most of my constituents are pro-family constituents who believe keeping a family unit together is always best."

A second Republican strategist said, "The media will broadcast these images of brutality and chaos and the public will associate them with the Republicans that run the House and the Senate — but most of all with President Trump."

But fearful of challenging the president, Republicans are offering a fix that also gives Trump what he wants: Major reductions to legal immigration and billions of dollars for a border wall. And the measure makes it extremely difficult to obtain asylum, which is what most families crossing the border are seeking. Furthermore, some experts say that the measure does little to ensure that children will be kept with their parents.

And in the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., plans to reintroduce legislation that would keep border-crossing families together "while they await court proceedings," according to an aide. It would be a new version of his 2014 HUMANE Act, which also expedites court proceedings for unaccompanied minor children. The legislation, critics say, would actually lead to more deportations of children and families.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called Trump's tactics "shameful."

"He's using children, whether they're dreamers or whether they're little children at the border now, for a political purpose," Pelosi said.

Democrats insist legislation is not necessary because the actions at the border are the administration's prerogative, not something required by law, as Trump has claimed.

Thirty-nine Democrats in the Senate have signed onto a measure called the Keep Families Together Act, which has a companion version supported by Democrats in the House, that says the government is "prohibited" from separating families at the border unless the child is being abused or is being trafficked.

"This is really about our values as a country. It's who we are as a country," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. "And we're here to say this is just simply wrong and we've got to put an end to the taking of minor children from their parents at the border."

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