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Georgia GOP lawmakers seek to expand on Trump’s border action

Georgia Republicans on Capitol Hill are aligning themselves with an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that reversed a contentious family separation policy on the southwest border. And many are urging Congress to take additional steps to bolster border security, improve conditions at federal detention centers and hire more immigration judges to handle asylum cases for migrants who cross the border illegally.

Local lawmakers from both parties saw their offices pummeled by constituent phone calls in recent days as stories about parent-children separations drew international condemnation. 

Many Georgia Republicans initially stayed quiet about the situation as GOP leaders scrambled to formulate a response after Trump called for Congress to act. But that changed after the president reversed himself on Wednesday afternoon, signing an executive order that allowed for families to be detained together during their immigration proceedings.

Within hours of Trump announcing the executive order, a group of Republican senators -- including U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue -- released an immigration bill essentially codifying Trump’s executive order. They said the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act would allow parents and children to stay together “while ensuring the integrity of our nation’s immigration laws.” 

“President Trump wants to enforce the law and keep families together, and this bill does both,” said Perdue, who huddled with Trump and other GOP senators earlier Wednesday.

Read more: Georgia lawmakers engulfed in firestorm over family separations

The legislation would also authorize 225 new immigration judges, set standards for “suitable living accommodations” and human trafficking at those facilities and require the feds to prioritize cases involving families housed there. 

In the House, Georgia’s Republican lawmakers pored over the text of two broader immigration measures slated for votes on Thursday. Both seek to make changes to family immigration law and build a wall on the Mexican border but differ in their treatment of so-called Dreamers and use of an employee verification system. 

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said he was leaning toward supporting the more conservative of the two bills. He said he would not back any proposal that would grant “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. 

Lawrenceville Republican Rob Woodall said he was inclined to back both measures. 

“Both of these are good faith efforts to make a difference,” he said. “I have always said that three yards and a cloud of dust is how we’re going to get to solutions. I can’t get everything I want every day of the week, so let’s do something that makes a difference.” 

None of the plans being advanced by congressional Republicans are expected to receive much of any support from across the aisle. Democrats continued to slam the Trump administration’s border policies on Wednesday. 

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said Trump’s executive action “certainly boosts the stock of the private prison industrial complex.” 

“What President Trump has done is to signal to refugees across the world that your presence is not welcomed here in America,” he said. 

Earlier in the day, Washington Democrats staged speeches and other events designed to draw attention to the situation on the border. Several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, escorted children to watch proceedings on the House floor in a protest that ran aground of the chamber’s rules. 

In a press conference near the Capitol’s West Front, Lewis hugged a child while proclaiming “there cannot be any peace in America” until the border separation ends. He said he plans to visit the Southern border in the weeks ahead.

Read more: Atlanta won’t take more ICE detainees while families are separated

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.