House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he opposes the separation of undocumented immigrant families at U.S. borders and wants to change the practice in legislation.
"No I am not" comfortable with it, the Wisconsin Republican told reporters. "We don't want kids to be separated from their parents."
GOP lawmakers are expected to include a provision barring the separation of families in an immigration bill the House will consider next week, according to NBC News. It is unclear whether that bill, intended to balance the demands of centrist and conservative House Republicans, will pass the chamber.
Ryan reportedly told colleagues this week that President Donald Trump supports the GOP compromise. Later Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not endorse a specific bill but said Trump would support a measure that leads to a "permanent solution." During a heated exchange on the separation practice, she repeatedly claimed the administration is just enforcing the law.
The House speaker blamed the widely criticized practice in part on a "court ruling." Still, the Trump administration has defended the increase in family separations as part of its broad push to deter people from entering the country illegally. It is unclear whether mounting backlash to the policy will cause the administration to abandon it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called the practice a "barbaric" policy "of the Trump administration" that "has to stop." She questioned why the GOP-controlled Congress has not already taken action.
"I just don't even know why there aren't uprisings all over the country, maybe there will be when people realize that this is a policy that they defend," the California Democrat told reporters. "It's a horrible thing. And I don't see any prospect for legislation." Pelosi's comments came after Ryan's remarks.
In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined a "zero tolerance" policy. He said all of those apprehended entering the country illegally would face criminal charges, which often leads to children being separated from parents and sent into government or foster care.
"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," he said at the time. "If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border."
As more focus has turned to the practice in recent weeks, religious groups and many Democratic lawmakers have condemned it as inhumane.
Nearly 1,800 immigrant families were separated at the U.S. border with Mexico from October 2016 through February, according to a Reuters report last week. Those figures came as the Trump administration tightened border enforcement, but before Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy.