Graham introduces bill to extend detention of migrant children

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Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing a new bill that he says will help stop the flow of immigrants from Central America and “regain control of our border.” Graham claimed that current caps in law have led to the escalation of immigrants traveling to the border as well as those in government custody

“We have a perfect storm brewing at the border because of a series of broken and outdated laws related to asylum and children,” said Graham. “No matter how high the wall will be built…no matter how many agents you put at the border, they’ll keep coming because they want to get caught.”

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Graham’s bill would reverse a long-standing order on detention dubbed the “20-day rule.” The rule, adopted after the 1997 Supreme Court Flores agreement, which set the nation’s rules for the treatment of immigrant minors in federal custody, says that migrant children, whether they arrived with family or are unaccompanied, cannot be held in detention for more than 20 days. Graham’s bill would instead recommend holding migrant children with their families for 100 days.

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“We need more time and more bed space. The best way to stop that flow is to send them back to their country as you would with Canada or Mexico,” he explained.

Graham told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” last week that his bill would help discourage adults from bringing children to the border as a legal “shield” and address the cache of asylum claims clogging up the U.S. court system.

“We’re gonna go to 100 days, we can hold minor children for 100 days so we can actually process the entire family without letting them go. We’re gonna increase judges by 500; we got almost 900,000 backlog of asylum claims. We’re gonna wipe out the backlog [of asylum claims.]”

In addition, Graham’s bill would prohibit asylum claims at the U.S. border and force migrants to apply for asylum in an American consulate in their home country, change existing laws to have minors be sent back to their home country when brought over with family, and hire 500 new immigration judges to help clear the asylum backlog.

“The incentive that is created by our laws will cease to exist,” Graham said. “This humanitarian disaster will begin to repair itself.” Graham told reporters that he’s willing to sit down with Democrats in order to address the “underlying problem in Central America” and merry any Democratic proposals to his bill.

It’s a move the Trump administration has long been pushing for ever since adopting its “zero tolerance” policy along the southern border.

That policy, which led border officials to separate migrant children from their parents as families sought asylum in the U.S., faced a flood of criticism over the treatment of young immigrants. Detention centers quickly filled up, and images of children being kept behind metal fences caused a public outcry. In the initial weeks of the zero-tolerance policy rollout, around 2,000 children, including babies, were separated from their families.

According to John Sanders, Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, family units and unaccompanied children make up 64% of southern border apprehensions with nearly 50,000 unaccompanied children apprehended so far this year. Sanders said in the month of April alone, 42,000 children were being held in CBP custody.

The Department of Justice has attempted to petition the courts to override the Flores agreement and remove the 20-day limit on detaining immigrant families together. That effort, so far, has been unsuccessful.

A California federal judge last year rejected the Trump administration’s requests to detain immigrant families for long terms, calling it a “cynical attempt” to undo a longstanding court settlement. The policy was later struck down and families were ordered to be reunited by October.

Graham meanwhile called his bill a “nightmare for smugglers at the border, saying that “if word got out on the street that a child could be sent back to their country, it would destroy the smugglers’ business.”

“We need to ask — who is in control here?  Us or the smugglers?  I hope Democrats will work with us to find a bipartisan solution.  This isn’t a hoax or a manufactured crisis.  It is real and serious,” Graham warned. “Today’s introduction begins the debate on a fix.”

Graham Kates contributed to this report. 

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