Senate Republicans calling for an end to the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant parents from their children are pushing legislation that would roll back due process, anti-trafficking and human rights protections — something the administration has long sought to accomplish — allowing for faster deportations of asylum-seekers and the indefinite detention of minors.
House Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing bills that would do all that, slash legal immigration and allocate tens of billions of dollars for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Specifically, the GOP bills up for consideration in the House and Senate would dramatically cut the time immigrants have to present their bids for asylum. The version drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), for example, mandates the hiring of thousands of new immigration judges who must hear families’ cases within 14 days of them crossing the border.
“The whole purpose of this is to adjudicate their claims very quickly and make a determination whether they have a valid asylum claim or if they can be deported,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who supports a bill from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), told TPM.
Human rights advocates say the two-week timeline would make it nearly impossible for asylum-seekers to put together the evidence needed for a successful application, especially since the families are being held in remote facilities where access to lawyers is difficult.
The House bill put together by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), which President Trump appeared to endorse in a muddled speech to the GOP caucus Tuesday night, would also raise the legal bar for asylum claims, making it much more difficult for immigrants to qualify.
Additionally, under the GOP bills, some families would be incarcerated together as immigration courts weigh their asylum claims, while others subject to prosecution under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy would continue to be separated.
The Republican-backed bills would end the Flores settlement, a decades-old federal court ruling that bans the government from holding children in immigration detention for longer than 20 days. Should the bills pass, the administration would be able to keep some children and parents incarcerated together, potentially for long periods of time.
The abolition of the Flores standard is something the administration has long sought.
Back in January, the White House put out a press release calling Flores a “deadly loophole” that “handicapped the government’s ability to detain” immigrant children, and calling on Congress to overturn it. They kept up the drumbeat all year, complaining in statements issued in February, March, April, May and June about “loopholes in federal immigration law that Democrats refuse to close.”
But Democratic leaders, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), say this solution is unacceptable.
“You put them in a correctional facility with their parents? Hooray. Isn’t that nice?” he said sarcastically at a briefing with reporters on Tuesday. “You put them behind bars. Isn’t that wonderful? What a compassionate alternative that is.”
Senate Democrats say such a proposal is dead on arrival in their chamber as well.
“We are not about to overturn a court decision that was designed to protect kids,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told reporters Tuesday. “There is no reason to treat people horrifically between the time that they arrive and the time they have their asylum hearing.”
With Republicans appearing increasingly unable to rally around a legislative solution, Democrats continue to insist that no congressional action is necessary and that the administration could act at any moment to unilaterally end the separation of children and their parents. As pressure mounts, reports surfaced Wednesday morning that the administration may do just that.
EXCLUSIVE: @realDonaldTrump considering some sort of executive action today to allow children to stay with detained parents through immigration adjudication process. Sources say Admin believes it is likely to draw a court challenge on the basis of Flores v Reno
— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) June 20, 2018
As the White House and many members of Congress continue to insist that Flores must be overturned, some lawmakers told TPM that the administration should move forward with indefinite family detention in spite of the federal ruling.
“The foundation upon which Flores is written is doing what is in the best interest of the child, and I think you can interpret Flores as saying that keeping the children with their parents is in the children’s best interest,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters. “You can prosecute them, but keep their children with them. You can believe in the rule of law and prosecute people for breaking it without taking their children away. If somebody disagrees with that, that’s why god invented federal courts. They can go litigate that.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have introduced their own bills in the House and Senate that would allow children and parents to be on supervised release while they go through the asylum process. They say the administration is wrong to use family separations as a deterrent to immigration — especially as government data show such a policy is ineffective.
“This concept that we’re going to dissuade people from coming into the country when they are fleeing the threat of having their children murdered, of being raped and abused, and having their governments not respond, is outrageous,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “They’re seeking refuge, for God sakes. What we’re doing is immoral.”