Congress agrees on need to end family separation practice, but still divided on how
John Moore/Getty Images (WASHINGTON) — While President Donald Trump has asserted that Congress laid the groundwork for the spate of family separations occurring on the southern border of the United States, members of Congress have noted that the president could act unilaterally to immediately end the new practice put in place by the Department of Homeland Security.
But absent his action, lawmakers are largely united in finding some quick solution to keep families together.
The question is, what solution will they all agree to?
Members of Congress from all sorts of factions have introduced different bills since the outrage over children being separated from their parents has mounted.
Right now House Speaker Paul Ryan appears focused on two bills, both written by congressional Republicans, that would address other aspects of the immigration system in addition to the family separation policy. In the upper chamber, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Tuesday that staffers are working on a proposal that would “keep it narrow so it doesn’t get bogged down in a bunch of other issues.”
Here’s a look at some of the legislation on the table.
“Keep Families Together Act” – Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif
This bill prohibits officials from removing a child under the age of 18 from their parent or legal guardian at or near a port of entry within 100 miles of the border. All Senate Democrats currently support the bill; as of now, no Republicans have signed on although one moderate House Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, tweeted his support of her effort. House Democrats are working on what could become a companion bill to Feinstein’s.
“Protect Kids and Parents Act” – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
Cruz, a frequent ally of President Trump, introduced what he called “emergency legislation” to stop the practice of children being separated from their parents. His bill would authorize new temporary shelters that would keep families together as adults await prosecution, double the number of federal immigration judges to help expedite cases, and require asylum cases to be adjudicated within 14 days, with those who do not meet the legal standard for asylum being immediately returned to their home country.
Unnamed “moderate” bill – House Republican leadership
House Republicans started working on this compromise bill after moderates threatened to force a vote on legal status for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action under President Obama. This measure, crafted in closed-door discussions between GOP conservatives and moderates organized by leadership and in consultation with the White House, will provide $25 billion in border wall funding, eliminate several visa programs while restructuring others, and provide a pathway for six-year “indefinitely renewable” legal status for Dreamers who could later apply for citizenship. It is also expected to include a provision to prevent the government from separating young children from parents and guardians while in government custody. The House will vote on this bill, and a more conservative one written by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Thursday.
“Securing America’s Future Act” – Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
This more conservative alternative, which will also get a House vote Thursday, would provide a pathway to legal status for Dreamers while limiting legal immigration levels. It is also expected to contain a provision on family separation, although Democrats have argued that both the House “moderate” bill and the Goodlatte version are insufficient and would open the door to families being detained indefinitely.
“Equal Protection of Unaccompanied Minors Act” – Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.
This bill, introduced by conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus and an ally of President Trump, would clarify an existing legal statute to make clear that children should not be separated from their parents while in DHS custody. It would also make it more difficult for immigrants to claim asylum, and, if a child does not have a “legitimate asylum claim,” arrange for “the safe and expeditious return” to the child’s home country. Meadows was spotted at the White House Tuesday although he would not say whether he was there to discuss his bill, which he has pitched as an alternative to the two other House Republican immigration bills, with the president.
Unnamed House Democratic bill – Rep. Jerold Nadler, R-N.Y.
House Democratic leadership has indicated that a forthcoming bill from Rep. Nadler will be similar to that of Feinstein’s in the Senate. Nadler was among a group of Democratic lawmakers who visited a detention facility in New Jersey on Sunday, meeting with detained asylum seekers who had been separated from their families. “We spoke to fathers whose children have been ripped from their arms, who have no idea when or if they will see their children again,” Nadler said of his visit.
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