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Pelosi: Trump administration policy separating parents and children at border 'barbaric'

Speaker Paul Ryan said the situation would 'require a legislative change.' A House GOP immigration bill being drafted for a vote next week is expected to address the policy.

WASHINGTON — Amid reports of migrant children being separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called the administration’s actions “barbaric,” as Speaker Paul Ryan said the situation called for a legislative fix.

“To the barbaric and unacceptable policy of ripping children from the arms of their parents at the border...barbaric. That’s not American. It’s not faith-based,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said at his weekly press conference Thursday that he’s not comfortable with the policy, but said that it’s a result of a court ruling that he said “ought to be addressed.”

“We don’t want kids to be separated from their parents,” Ryan said when asked by NBC’s Kasie Hunt if the policy is inhumane. “We believe that because of the court ruling, this will require a legislative change.”

Current law does not proscribe a policy of separating children from their parents.

Pelosi disagreed with Ryan that the “zero tolerance policy” requires legislation and suggested that the administration could quickly lift this policy unilaterally since it instituted it in the first place.

“This was an act of the administration. They had been planning this for a while,” Pelosi said. “I don’t see any prospect for any legislation here.”

NBC’s Jacob Soboroff, one of the first reporters granted access to a facility in Texas housing migrant children, one of the biggest in the nation, said that what he witnessed in the Brownsville, Texas location looked more like incarceration than a temporary shelter.

At the prayer breakfast, Ryan said that everyone is committed to “fixing this utterly broken immigration system.”

“My goal has always been to have a lasting solution — not just some temporary patch, but a lasting solution so that that we can address the sincere problem that the DACA kids are facing and so that we can address it so that we don’t have another DACA five, 10 years down the road,” said Ryan.

A compromise House GOP immigration bill that’s currently being drafted for a floor vote next week is expected to include language that would prevent children from being separated from parents at the border, NBC News reported Wednesday. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., one of the moderate Republicans involved in negotiations over the legislation, said the provision will be part of the text of the measure. A senior GOP aide confirmed the provision to NBC and said Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., briefed House Republicans last week that it would be included in any bill that's considered.

Late Tuesday, moderate Republicans reached a deal with conservatives to allow two votes on the House floor next week — one on the compromise bill and one on a conservative bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. The agreed-upon strategy was the result of a discharge petition, which failed to garner 218 signatures by the Tuesday deadline in order to trigger immigration floor votes this month.

Ryan said Thursday that he would not predict how much support the compromise measure would receive. “We can’t guarantee passage,” he said — but that even so, “the last thing we want to do is have an exercise in futility like a discharge petition.”

A number of religious leaders have blasted the administration for the policy separating children from their parents. The Evangelical Immigration Table, made up of multiple evangelical groups, wrote to President Trump earlier this month asking that the administration reverse its policy.

“We respectfully ask you to work with Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen to reverse this 'zero tolerance' policy and instead urge law enforcement entities to exercise discretion to protect the unity of families,” they said.

This week, Rev. Franklin Graham said in an interview on Christian Broadcasting Network, “I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” though the Trump supporter blamed lawmakers for failing to fully address border policy in recent years.