SALT LAKE CITY — Members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation welcomed President Donald Trump's decision Wednesday to sign an executive order to keep immigrant families detained at the border from being separated.
"We all understand how important it is to enforce our immigration laws, but we also all agree that separating children from their parents is not the right course of action," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a prepared statement.
The title of the news release from Hatch's office gives him credit for "successfully calling for family separation pause." The executive order is an about-face for Trump, who has blamed Democrats for forcing the separations.
Hatch said he appreciated "the president's willingness to listen to us on this issue." Tuesday, Hatch and a dozen other GOP senators asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the separations while Congress works on the issue.
In their letter to Sessions, the senators said the administration's new zero tolerance policy for border offenses is the immediate cause of the border crisis that has been widely condemned, including by Utah Democrats at a news conference Wednesday.
"Although enforcing our immigration laws is an essential responsiblity of the federal government, it must be done in a way that is consistent with our values and ordinary human decency," the letter stated.
Hatch is a co-sponsor of two bills in the Senate that mandate immigrant families must be kept together and provide resources to prioritize their cases, including additional immigration judges.
Utah Rep. Mia Love, who had called the policy "horrible" earlier this week, issued a statement saying she applauded "the president's willingness to change the unjust practice of separating families at the border. But this effort can't stop there."
The executive order comes the day after Trump met behind closed doors with U.S. House Republicans on the issue. A vote on a compromise bill that includes a provision on family separations backed by Love could come Thursday.
Utah Rep. John Curtis, who was able to tell Trump after that meeting "how important it is to Utah that we keep families together," said in a statement he was pleased with the president's action.
Trump "has taken executive action to ensure that we show compassion and reflect American values, while also enforcing our nation's immigration laws," Curtis said, adding he remains "strongly committed" to a legislative solution.
Congressional action is needed "to solve this problem the right way," Utah Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement. He said he stands "ready to pass legislation that will enhance border security and give due respect to the family unit."
Utah Sen. Mike Lee said in a statement, "Ending the separation of migrant families who cross the border illegally is a step in the right direction," but the change must be made permanent by Congress.
Lee said legislation must be passed "to make sure the federal government has the proper authority and funding to house migrant families" and the "resources needed for a swift and fair asylum adjudication process."
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart said he was "pleased that the president recognizes that this is a problem that needs to be solved today."
Stewart said Congress needs "to eliminate the separation of immigrant families for good and move meaningful legislation that addresses other immigration issues as well.”
The president's executive order blames inaction by Congress for the separations resulting from the administration's zero tolerance policy that requires immigrants seeking asylum or caught crossing the border illegally to be held.
"It is unfortunate that Congress' failure to act and court orders have put the administration in the position of separating alien families to effectively enforce the law," the order states.
The executive order was signed by Trump as a group of about 50 Utah Democrats gathered on the steps of the state Capitol to protest the federal government's treatment of children taken from their parents.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the president's action "is absolutely a step in the right direction." But he said it should not have taken an uproar from throughout the country to resolve "such a fundamental issue."
At the protest downtown, where many carried "Families Belong Together" signs in English and Spanish, Gill, whose family came to the United States from India when he was a child, said, "This is not who we are. These are not our ideals."
Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Daisy Thomas, who attended the rally with her baby, said the executive order doesn't address the administration's policy of detaining immigrants trying to enter the United States.
"Putting families in cages is still putting people in cages," she said. "If he could have signed this executive order while I was speaking, he could have signed it six weeks ago when we were learning of this."