WASHINGTON – The child immigrant controversy roiling Washington has spread rapidly to Florida, injecting an explosive issue into key campaigns and testing Republican fealty to President Donald Trump.
Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday will visit a federal facility in Homestead where as many as 1,000 immigrant youth are being held, "some of whom were separated from their families at the border, and others who were unaccompanied minors when they crossed the border," according to Nelson's office, which notified reporters of the visit.
The Democrat, like others in his party sensing a moral and political advantage, blasted the Trump policy and accused rival Gov. Rick Scott of not standing up to the president. Nelson has co-sponsored legislation to stop the practice.
Scott on Monday said he opposes splitting families but blamed the situation on Washington "for being all talk and no action and the solution is to secure the border."
His statement did not mention Trump or the "zero tolerance" policy that the president can reverse on his own.
President Barack Obama was criticized for his handling of an earlier migrant crush at the border but Trump's response has triggered bipartisan outcry due to the treatment of children. If Trump is trying to stimulate the Republican base ahead of the midterms, the focus on immigration is concerning to some Republicans who have seen the party wrestle with years over the issue and would rather talk about the economy.
"It is totally unacceptable, for any reason, to purposely separate minor children from their parents. Any and every other option should be implemented in order to not separate minors from their parents, which I believe is unconscionable," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Marco Rubio also called for change but used less emotional language that avoided criticizing Trump.
"Currently govt must either release parents & continue incentive for illegal entry with children or separate families by detaining parents. Neither is good. Lets change the law to allow families to be held together at family facilities & shorten detention with expedited hearings," he wrote Monday.
Jeb Bush echoed thinking that Trump is using the children to win concessions on a border wall.
Still, other Republicans appeared to embrace Trump's tough approach.
Adam Putman, running in the GOP gubernatorial primary, issued a fundraising email that said, "President Trump has led the way with his aggressive agenda on illegal immigration."
He didn't mention the child issue, but for someone branded "Amnesty Adam" by opponent Ron DeSantis, Putnam was projecting toughness.
"I hope you'll show your support and help keep out these dangerous criminal illegal aliens," his solicitation reads.