Trump administration promotes study that calls for long-term detention of migrant families
VallarieE/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is promoting the work of an external advisory committee that recommends the president issue an “emergency regulation” to allow the long-term detention of families arriving at the border.
The panel also suggests reaching an agreement with Mexico to allow more asylum seekers to wait there while their claims wind their way through court.
Kevin McAleenan, the new acting Homeland Security secretary, hasn’t said whether he will act on the recommendations. But he’s referenced the report’s findings in recent media interviews and suggested he’s taking its recommendations seriously as he tries to devise a path forward at the border.
His public embrace of the report comes as U.S. officials have told ABC News that the government is considering the possibility of building tent cities for migrants at two locations along the southern border.
McAleenan, who took over DHS after Kirstjen Nielsen was fired, was expected to testify for the first time in his new role on Tuesday before the House panel that oversees the agency’s budget.
In prepared remarks, McAleenan will defend President’s Donald Trump’s plans for a border wall and lays out what he calls an “acute and worsening crisis” at the border.
He will cite the “nearly 40,000 children in the month of April alone” encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“The migration flow and the resulting humanitarian crisis is now even more dire and is rapidly overwhelming the ability of the federal government to respond,” McAleenan is expected to tell lawmakers on Tuesday.
Late Monday, Trump in a memo called on his staff to find a way to impose fees on asylum seekers and to ensure most asylum applications are completed in 180 days. He also called for ways to ensure people who enter illegally are barred from being able to work.
The Trump administration is facing a massive crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, as tens of thousands of migrants arrive each month. U.S. border officials said more than 100,000 people arrived in March and that the numbers are on track to reach one million by the end of the budget year in September.
Whereas migrants used to be single men looking for work, U.S. officials have reported seeing an unprecedented number of families looking to claim asylum. According to the advisory panel, one reason for the spike in family migration are federal court rulings that children — whether they are accompanied by their parents or not — cannot be detained past 20 days.
And because asylum claims can take several years to work their way through the courts, the families must be released into the United States to wait for their case to be resolved by an overwhelmed immigration court.
The advisory panel said this encourages more families to come — even those without legitimate asylum claims.
“A consequence of this broken system, driven by grossly inadequate detention space for family units and a shortage of transportation resources, is a massive increase in illegal crossings of our borders, almost entirely driven by the increase in (family unit) migration from Central America,” the advisory panel stated.
While the panel recommends that Congress step in, those suggestions are considered unlikely with Democrats in control of the House. Democrats said Trump’s rhetoric has only served to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment inside the U.S.
The panel suggests that in the absence of congressional action, DHS should “act promptly” by invoking emergency regulation to roll back court-mandated limits on children detained with their parents. That approach, however, would almost certainly be challenged in court, possibly requiring the Supreme Court to eventually weigh in.
The panel also recommends that border authorities be allowed to take photographs and biometrics, or body measurements, of children “to stem the recycling of children at the border and to rapidly determine the legitimacy of parentage claims.”
Another recommendation calls for an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that could pave the way for future expansions of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” initiatives.
Jayson Ahern, a former acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and co-author of the report, called this proposal a “long shot,” but he said he thinks would help the situation.
The administration’s current plan to force certain asylum seekers back into Mexico while they wait to see a judge was temporarily blocked in court and faced resistance from the Mexican government. But the new policy’s incremental roll-out has continued.
Ahern told ABC News the Mexican government should do more to help curb migrant travel through their country.
“Certainly,” Ahern said, “you’re going to want to have Mexico be a willing partner.”
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