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Key Trump allies seek way out of immigration crisis

Republicans are growing anxious over President Donald Trump's policy to break up families at the border -- and now even his closest allies are trying to help find a way out of a growing political crisis.

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Manu Raju
Lauren Fox (CNN)
(CNN) — Republicans are growing anxious over President Donald Trump's policy to break up families at the border -- and now even his closest allies are trying to help find a way out of a growing political crisis.

With the White House refusing to reverse the practice and demanding Congress step into the fray instead, one of Trump's closest allies is offering a narrowly targeted bill seeking to ensure immigrant parents are not separated from their kids while they are in Department of Homeland Security custody.

Rep. Mark Meadows, the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is offering a new bill that that would allow children to be detained indefinitely with their parents, would raise the threshold for asylum seekers and is a far more limited in scope than two other pieces of legislation GOP leaders hope to bring to the floor this week.

The Meadows bill is the latest sign that Republicans across the spectrum are eager to find a quick legislative fix to stanch the bipartisan uproar amid images of young children being housed in detention facilities along the southern border with Mexico. But the party is badly divided on how to respond -- and whether Trump should just fix the matter himself.

"The President's agenda of cracking down on illegal immigration is critical, and yet many of us, including the President, agree: there is a better way to solve the complications of illegal immigration proceedings than separating children from their parents at the border," Meadows said in an email to CNN. "We need to better enforce our immigration laws, but we can do so while keeping parents and children together."

Meadows's proposal would bar children apprehended at the border with their parents from being separated while they are in DHS custody and is similar to provisions in two other House bills, but Meadows's bill is more targeted and would not include border funding or address what to do with recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump ended but is in legal limbo in the court system.

Meadows plan is the latest in a flurry of bills Republicans are proposing as they scramble to pass legislation by next week, even as they have yet to sign onto Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill on the issue that is backed by all 49 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

The issue of family separations has quickly overshadowed another immigration debate on Capitol Hill -- and become yet another political headache for Republican leaders. And the Meadows bill could inject uncertainty into an already fragile immigration negotiation where House leaders have worked for weeks alongside conservatives and moderates to hammer out an immigration compromise that addresses family separations at the border -- as well as allocates $25 billion in border security for Trump's wall and provides recipients of DACA with an eventual path to citizenship.

Some Republicans argue that making just a small fix to immigration laws could create other problems.

"You'll never do anything narrow," Sen. Lindsey Graham said. "That's what I keep telling the President. Fixing one thing opens up ten other things."

But underscoring the deep divide within the GOP, others said a legislative fix is the only way to go.

"I think what happens now is the need for a change in law," said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who represents Colorado, a state with a sizable Latino population. He did not call on Trump to fix it himself.

Some Republicans have argued that the Trump administration has the unilateral power to just stop separating families.

"The fact is the administration has the authority to fix this immediately without legislation," Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said Monday night.

Trump is expected to gather with House Republicans on Tuesday night in a highly anticipated meeting aimed at building consensus among members of Congress and the White House over broader immigration reform bills, but the Meadows bill will be yet another option for Trump to consider.

Despite the fact that the White House helped negotiate the compromise immigration bill with House leaders, ensuring the President backs it has been a herculean lift. On Friday, Trump told Fox News he wouldn't sign a more moderate proposal only for the White House to turn around nine hours later and issue an on-the-record statement that Trump backed both the conservative Goodlatte bill and leadership's compromise legislation.

In addition to addressing family separations, the Meadows bill would also seek to make conservative changes to the way the country deals with unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers. The bill seeks to combat asylum fraud by raising the threshold at which an individual can get asylum. It would also change the law so that unaccompanied minors from Mexico would be treated the same as unaccompanied minors from countries that don't touch the US. And, it would make it harder for individuals to be eligible for a Special Immigrant Juvenile visa. Applicants would have to prove that they cannot be returned to either of their parents -- rather than just one -- because of "abuse, neglect or abandonment."

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