First came the haunting image of a wailing toddler in a pink jacket, followed by harrowing photos of children inside chain-link cages huddled on the floor beneath Mylar blankets. And then came even more heart-wrenching audio of sobbing children pleading for their mamas and papís.

The focus on undocumented immigrant children being separated from their parents or guardians at the country’s southern border exploded this week, prompting some of the most hawkish conservatives to chide President Donald Trump and his administration for a practice Democrats and immigrants’ advocates condemned even more loudly.

By midweek, Trump, under pressure from Republican leaders anxious about the impact on the fall elections, reversed course on the policy his administration denied was even a policy. But even after the president issued an executive order, questions continued to swirl, such as how — or if — children and parents held in detention centers thousands of miles apart would be reunited.

And, as so often is the case in national dramas, Florida was a major player: Two Democratic lawmakers were denied access to a Homestead facility that houses dozens of undocumented children who were whisked away from their families out west.

Week’s end brought no sign that the angry rhetoric would dissipate anytime soon, with the finger pointing in full force and the president throwing fuel on the fire.

“We must maintain a Strong Southern Border. We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections. Obama and others had the same pictures, and did nothing about it,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.

Trump’s message to his 53 million Twitter followers was a stark contrast to a message posted two days earlier by Pope Francis.

“A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity #WithRefugees,” the pope (@Pontifex) tweeted.

Two hours before the president posted his viral message Friday morning, Pope Francis offered some disparate advice: “Love for others needs to become the constant factor of our lives.”

BORDER BACKLASH

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who are battling for the Republican nomination for governor, have spent months trying to hitch themselves to Trump’s coattails.

But like outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Putnam and DeSantis adopted softer stances this week on the immigration policy.

“It’s important that we enforce our laws in a humane way and families should be kept together. With secure borders, you would have less of this issue. Washington needs to work with President Trump to find a solution,” Putnam said in a statement issued by his campaign Tuesday.

DeSantis, who’s carved out a reputation as an immigration hawk and has nailed down Trump’s endorsement, told supporters in Bradenton that he would “keep the family together and repatriate them back as a family unit.”

Scott, who is trying to oust veteran U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and who is an ally of Trump, also distanced himself from the policy — saying he does “not favor separating families” — while at the same time mirroring the president’s finger-pointing at Congress for the situation.

“What the country is witnessing right now is the byproduct of the many years of bipartisan inaction and failure from our federal government,’’ Scott said in a statement distributed by his Senate campaign.

But while four other governors — including Republicans from Maryland and Massachusetts — are refusing to lend aid to the federal border defense, Scott does not plan to recall three Florida National Guard troops dispatched to support the effort.

Tuesday evening, Scott sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, seeking information about the children housed at the Homestead facility.

“I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families. This practice needs to stop now,” wrote Scott, whose hardline immigration stance was a cornerstone of his 2010 campaign for governor.

The opposition from Scott, Putnam and DeSantis came amid competitive campaigns in a state with a fast-growing number of Hispanics, a voting bloc Republicans and Democrats consider critical to November victories.

Nelson on Tuesday captured national attention after he and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., were barred from entering the privately run federal detention facility in Homestead. Nelson said that, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 94 of the approximately 1,000 children housed in the facility were taken from their families at the border.

The Democrats accused Trump and his administration of a cover-up.

“They are obviously hiding something,” an irate Nelson told reporters. “This is absolutely ridiculous. I am ashamed of this administration, that they are doing this.”

Nelson plans to visit the facility Saturday.

THE LINE FORMS HERE

In the past, the end of qualifying week created a mad scramble at the state Division of Elections office. But that has abated significantly since the advent of electronic filing.

Nevertheless, with this year’s qualifying period ending at noon Friday, the office still provided a showcase for candidates who wanted to grab the limelight, such as five Democratic gubernatorial wannabes.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando-area entrepreneur Chris King all filed their forms in person during the past week, as did Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, a late entry into the race.

But, on the other side of the aisle, Putnam and DeSantis took a stealthier approach, submitting the documents without fanfare.

The biggest surprise of the week in statewide races came when Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, dropped his bid for attorney general and announced he would apply to become Florida’s top financial regulator.

Fant had been vying with two other Republicans, former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody and Rep. Frank White of Pensacola, and two Democrats, state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa and Hillsborough County lawyer Ryan Torrens, to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi. But Fant, who raised relatively little campaign cash in recent months, said in a prepared statement he instead wants to become commissioner of the state Office of Financial Regulation.

The post “is the position most in line with my experience in banking, law and policymaking and I will seek that appointment,” Fant said.

STORY OF THE WEEK: President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their families at the southern U.S. border, a policy that quickly became a political flashpoint in Florida. Dozens of the children are being housed at a facility in Homestead.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It depends on how it plays out, but it’s certainly not a great general-election issue, for sure.” — Brian Ballard, a Republican lobbyist and fundraiser who has close ties to President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott, referring to the family separation issue.


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