"Children belong with their mothers and fathers": Emergency legislation to keep illegal immigrant families together introduced by ... Ted Cruz

My God. By tomorrow morning Trump will be tweeting police sketches of the Zodiac at him.

Two possible explanations for this bold stroke. One: Compassion, plain and simple. Sure, Cruz is a hardcore border hawk who vowed to oppose legalization of illegals in 2016, but this is different. These are kids, sometimes very young ones. He’s been touched by the photos and heart-wrenching audio of grade-schoolers trapped behind chain-link without mom and dad. Time to act.

Two: Electoral terror, plain and simple. He’s up for reelection in a border state with a large Latino minority in less than five months against a capable opponent who’s within striking distance and desperate for an issue to galvanize Democratic voters. That opponent, Beto O’Rourke, has moved aggressively to leverage this issue, too. Inaction isn’t an option.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course.

“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week.

“Repeatedly, I have visited detention facilities tragically housing young children. For far too long, children have been the greatest victims of our broken immigration system, with tens of thousands of children who were detained under the Obama Administration and continuing through today, and with far too many of those children facing horrific physical or sexual assault from criminal human traffickers.

“The answer is not what congressional Democrats are proposing: simply releasing illegal aliens and returning to the failed policy of ‘catch and release.’ Rather, we should fix the backlog in immigration cases, remove the legal barriers to swift processing, and resolve asylum cases on an expedited basis.

“While these cases are pending, families should stay together. Children belong with their mothers and fathers. Once their cases have been adjudicated – under my legislation, in no longer than 14 days – those who meet the legal standard should be granted asylum and those who don’t should be immediately returned to their home country.”

The current bureaucracy isn’t equal to the task of processing asylum-seekers quickly so he proposes to double it — 750 immigration judges instead of 375 plus more temporary shelters so that families can be housed together while awaiting adjudication. Judges would have to give thumbs up or down on the asylum claim within 14 days. All of which is fine, except that it cuts against the logic of deterrence that motivated the policy in the first place. Populist whisperer Steve Bannon was on TV just yesterday insisting that the White House doesn’t need to justify the separation policy — it’s a straightforward expression of “zero tolerance” for illegal entrants. Cruz wants to end that “zero tolerance” and eliminate the alleged deterrent provided by having one’s children taken away temporarily. By Trump’s logic he’d necessarily be seen as soft here, especially since his legislation doesn’t demand the sort of major Democratic concessions Trump is seeking as the price of ending the separation policy like the wall, an end to chain migration, etc.

Cruz’s transformation into immigration softie isn’t the topsy-turviest Republican move on this issue, though. Yeesh:

Flake and McCain were for criminally prosecuting illegal entrants — the precondition to child separation — before they were against it, when Trump decided it was a good idea. Were they just being glib before in supporting the policy or are they being dishonest now in opposing it as an outrageous affront to American values?

As for Cruz, he’s in a tricky situation in Texas. It’s a red state, yeah, but Trump isn’t especially popular there and Texans may be even more lukewarm about this policy than Republicans nationally are. A new poll from CNN finds support among GOPers coast to coast at 58 percent, the best number for Trump thus far among the four that have been taken, but opinion stands at a dismal 28/67 among the general public. Another new poll, this one from CBS, puts it at just 17/67. The fact that Cruz moved as quickly as he did to separate himself from Trump on the separation issue tells you that either he doesn’t think Republican numbers will improve much amid the media firestorm and/or that he has reason to believe from internal polling that standing with Trump on this could turn out to be a major liability in Texas. Worth noting: The other Republican senator from Texas, John Cornyn, has also moved briskly to end the separation policy via legislation. Whatever ominous signs Cruz is seeing back home, Cornyn’s seeing them too.

Exit question: Will Trump disdain Cruz’s legislative solution as weak or will he welcome it even though it doesn’t give him anything that he really wants? One problem lurking here for POTUS is that there’s no elegant exit strategy from the policy if he decides that it’s doing him and the GOP more harm than good. If McConnell and Ryan start pounding on the door, screaming at him to end the policy before they get walloped in the midterms over it, there’s no way for Trump to do it without losing face. Unless, of course, Congress comes up with something that takes it out of his hands and makes the policy illegal. Trump has said he’s open to a congressional solution. Would he be open to one like Cruz’s that doesn’t get him the wall or new restrictions on legal immigration but would at least defuse this problem?