U.S. Sen. Susan Collins visits the Cianbro Corporation in Pittsfield, May 29, 2018. Collins said during a Sunday appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" that the Trump administration's policy of pursuing criminal charges against immigrants and separating children from families along the southern border is "inconsistent with American values" and "traumatizing" to the children. Credit: Gabor Degre

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Sunday called the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of pressing criminal charges against immigrants and separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border “inconsistent with American values” and “traumatizing” to children.

“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children your children are going to be ripped away from you. That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country,” Collins said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on April 6 that the Department of Homeland Security would refer all cases of illegal entry into the United States for criminal prosecution as part of the administration’s efforts to deter illegal immigration. The policy has resulted in a surge of children being separated from their families along the southern border.

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said in a statement announcing the policy.

But Collins cast doubt about the efficacy of the policy as a deterrent against illegal immigration.

“From the experience of previous administrations, it does not act as a deterrent to use children in this fashion,” she said. “It is inconsistent with our American values to separate these children from their parents unless there’s evidence of abuse or another very good reason.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, also has been critical of separating migrant families at the border, calling it “terrible” and “inhumane.”

“We have laws about asylum, people can come to this country and they can request asylum if they’re fleeing violence in their home country, and the price of trying to save yourself and the lives of your family should not be the separation of your family,” King told Portland-based CBS affiliate WGME on Friday. “I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Federal data show nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families between April 19 and May 31, according to the Associated Press. The separations were not broken down by age, and they included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations or possible criminal conduct by the adult, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. officials have suggested that this number will continue to rise, with the Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest stretch of the Southwest border, estimating that the number of affected families could double, according to The Washington Post.

“We are trying to build to 100 percent prosecution of everybody that is eligible,” Manuel Padilla Jr., Border Patrol chief for the Rio Grande Valley, told The Washington Post last week. “We are not there yet, but that is our intent.”

During her Sunday appearance on “Face the Nation,” Collins suggested the number of children separated from their families at the border could exceed the nearly 2,000 reported by the Department of Homeland Security.

On Saturday, Collins and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona sent a letter to Homeland Security requesting additional information about the separation of children at the border, citing cases of children being separated from their parents who sought asylum at ports of entry.

“What we do know is this,” Collins told “Face the Nation.” “The secretary of Homeland Security testified that if parents present at a legal port of entry with their children [and] with a claim of asylum that their children would not be taken away. Yet, there are numerous credible media accounts showing that exactly that is happening, and the administration needs to put an end to that right off.”

Collins also called on her colleagues in Washington to take up legislation to address immigration reform and border security.

A compromise immigration plan was presented last week by House Speaker Paul Ryan that has support from moderate Republicans but has faced backlash from conservatives. The proposal includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million young immigrants in the country illegally, known as “Dreamers,” $25 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other security measures, according to the Associated Press.

President Donald Trump is set to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss the bill, according to The Washington Post. The meeting that comes just days after Trump threw the fate of the compromise legislation into doubt when he said Friday he wouldn’t sign the compromise bill, but the White House later said he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.

“We know from years of experience that we need to fix our immigration laws and that using children is not the answer,” Collins said.

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