Sen. Susan Collins hosted a meeting of more than a dozen senators in her office Wednesday afternoon to discuss a bill that would guarantee the end of the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

They gathered even as President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to halt the controversial policy. The group included Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who have both proposed legislation on the issue but have not gained bipartisan support.

“The executive order is a step in the right direction in that it will immediately end the separation of children from their parents, and that certainly is welcomed,” Collins said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “Nevertheless, there are a lot of questions about the executive order, and those questions lead me to believe that we still should produce legislation that sets into law the guidelines for when adults can be separated from their children.”

All four members of Maine’s delegation have opposed the policy of family separation. Even with the executive order in place, Collins said Congress still needs to take action in part because Trump could change his mind and reverse his decision.

The executive order also did not end the president’s “zero tolerance” stance. The administration plans to hold families together in federal custody while they await prosecution for illegal border crossings, but that could potentially violate a 1997 court settlement limiting the duration of child detentions.

Collins said legislation could outline alternatives to lengthy detention for families. The senators at the meeting discussed ideas such as using ankle bracelets and expediting the hearings of families claiming asylum in the United States.

“I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of families being detained for a long period of time due to the backlog in immigration cases,” Collins said. “The reason I believe the executive order is a step in the right direction is at least it prevents the families from being separated.”

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The bill also should allow for separation in extraordinary circumstances, the senator said – for example, if the child is being trafficked or abused by the adult.

Collins said Feinstein and Cruz will meet Thursday to review the differences between their proposals.

“They can do so knowing that there is a bipartisan group of senators who want to see a result,” she said.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, also was present at the meeting in Collins’ office. He tweeted a statement about the president’s executive order Wednesday afternoon.

The statement from Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st Congressional District, raised lingering questions about the treatment of immigrants at the southern border.

“This executive order is an admission that the president and members of the administration have been lying all along about their role in instigating family separation and their authority to stop it,” Pingree said. “This order may mean a temporary halt to the cruel trauma of forcibly separating children from their parents at the border, but this is by no means the end of the issue. We do not know how these isolated children will be reunited with their families. The administration has not changed its zero-tolerance policy of indiscriminately prosecuting adults and is now seeking authority to detain families together indefinitely.

“Many questions also remain about whether they have the proper facilities to make this possible and why no members of Congress have so far been allowed to visit facilities housing girls and babies – a must for performing our oversight responsibilities.”

Pingree has announced she is among a group of 20 Democratic members of Congress who plan to visit federal detention facilities in Texas on Saturday to see where children are being held after having been separated from their families.

In the hours before the president signed the order, Maine’s 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin also released a statement to reiterate his opposition to family separation.

“As a father, I support measures to stop the separation of families at the border,” Poliquin said. “If that is done through action by Congress, I’ll support it. If it is done by the administration and executive branch, I’ll support it. Right now, there are several different proposals to do this and things are quickly changing, but I am supportive of those efforts. If there is standalone legislation to address this specifically, I would be supportive, but will need to review the specific details of each proposal based on its own merits.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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