California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday joined the growing chorus of critics demanding that the Trump administration end its zero-tolerance policy of separating families that cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, saying in a letter that the practice "is contrary to American values and must be stopped."
Becerra and 20 other Democratic attorneys general signed on to the letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, demanding that the federal government "immediately cease these draconian practices."
Led by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, the letter states that the Trump administration's policy may violate international, state and federal laws and is not only harming children but preventing the attorneys general from prosecuting international crimes such as human trafficking and gang violence that require the cooperation of victims and survivors.
But the letter focuses most on the harm these separations are causing the children and the rights afforded to minors under the law.
"The fundamental rights of children are expressed in international, federal and state bodies of law," the letter states. "Almost universally, the statutory mandates and the litany of cases interpreting them overwhelmingly express that a child's best interests are served by remaining with his or her family, absent a rigorous judicial inquiry resulting in a finding that a parent is unfit or proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed."
Separating children from their parents without that due diligence, the letter states, would "be illegal under most state laws."
"The notion that a the government should intrude into the rights of a parent to be with their child has historically been met with extremely high levels of scrutiny," the letter continues. "The deliberate separation of families for the express purpose of furthering an immigration policy is contrary to our laws."
Also Tuesday, University of California President Janet Napolitano -- who led the Department of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama -- called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, citing what she called the "humanitarian crisis" on the southern border.
In a statement, Napolitano said that the two immigration bills set to be voted on in the House of Representatives this week "fall far short of a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system and, most important, are contrary to our nation’s values."
One of those bills would cut legal immigration and is considered too conservative to pass. The other could garner more support from moderate Republicans because it includes a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, young people who were brought to the country as children and received temporary protection under Obama.
But those bills could change as Republicans continue to talk to Trump.