Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 20 other Democratic attorneys general are calling on President Donald Trump's administration to end the practice of separating children from their families at the US-Mexico border.
"What the Trump administration is doing is immoral and reprehensible," Healey said. "It's unimaginable that the President would try to play politics by tearing babies from their mothers and leaving toddlers stranded and crying. As a matter of basic humanity, and for the good this country represents, the Trump Administration needs to immediately end this horrible policy."
The attorneys general for four other New England states - Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont - joined Healey in sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The letter expresses "strong opposition" to the Trump administration's practice, saying it is "contrary to American values and must be stopped" and raises serious concerns regarding the violation of children's rights and principles of due process.
The other attorneys general who are part of the coalition include New Mexico, California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.
The move comes a day after Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker reversed course and said he will not send the Massachusetts National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border due ot the "cruel and inhumane" decision by the Trump administration to separate children from their parents as families arrive at the border.
"I'm hopeful that with the voices that are coming out at this point and making that case to them, that they will consider alternatives to deal with border security," Baker said. "Border security is important — no one disputes that — but separating kids from their families is not."
Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo issued a similar statement Tuesday, calling the Trump administration's policy "immoral, unjust and un-American." She said she has not been asked yet, but if she is, she will not deploy Rhode Island National Guard units to the southern border.
"Children should be with their families, not trapped in cages, sobbing and calling out for their parents," she said.
On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, participated in a march in Texas to draw attention to a tent-like shelter to house hundreds of the minors near the Tornillo port of entry in far West Texas. The protest was led by Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke.
He called the practice of family separation "monstrous," saying all families and all children deserve to be treated with dignity and decency.
Trump has remained defiant, defending his administration's border-protection policies in the face of the rising national outrage. Calling for tough action against illegal immigration, Trump declared the U.S. "will not be a migrant camp" on his watch.
Images of children held in fenced cages fueled a growing chorus of condemnation from both political parties, four former first ladies and national evangelical leaders. The children are being held separately from parents who are being prosecuted under the administration's "zero-tolerance" policy for illegal border crossings.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said, "We will not apologize for the job we do or for the job law enforcement does, for doing the job that the American people expect us to do."
Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.
The policy change was meant to deter unlawful crossings — and Sessions issued a warning last month to those entering the U.S. illegally that their children "inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions."
The current holding areas have drawn widespread attention after journalists gained access to one site Sunday. At a McAllen, Texas, detention center hundreds of immigrant children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.
Audio of sobbing children calling out for their parents dominated the discussion Monday. "Papa! Papa!" one child is heard weeping in an audio file that was first reported by the nonprofit ProPublica and later provided to The Associated Press.
Mindful of the national outcry, lawmakers in both parties rushed Monday to devise a targeted legislative fix. But the White House signaled it would oppose any narrow fix aimed solely at addressing the plight of children separated from their parents under the immigration crackdown. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump's priorities, like funding a border wall and tightening immigration laws, must also be fulfilled as part of any legislation.
"We want to fix the whole thing," she said. "We don't want to tinker with just part of it."