Republicans, Democrats introduce bills to stop family separations: Can they compromise?

FILE - President Donald Trump Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, left, at a bipartisan meeting the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Dividing lines between Republicans and Democrats are reemerging in the immigration debate as lawmakers draft separate proposals to stop family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Outrage over the separation of children from their parents has crossed party lines, but there are no signs yet that the two sides can reach a bipartisan solution.

According to President Donald Trump, Congress bears responsibility for changing the law that he claims mandates family separation.

On Tuesday, President Trump challenged lawmakers to give him "the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit."

"All we need is good legislation and we have to get the Democrats to go ahead and work with us," Trump said in a speech to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Currently, all 49 Senate Democrats are backing a bill introduced by Diane Feinstein of California, prohibiting the separation of children from parents as a means of deterring illegal immigration. Only if the child is at risk of abuse or neglect can he or she be separated, according to the bill.

Some Democrats have reported interest from Republicans in the Keep Families Together Act, none have stepped forward publicly.

At the same time, Republicans have at least two bills they are considering amid pressure from President Trump to resolve the border crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gave an ambiguous endorsement for "a plan that keeps families together," during a Tuesday press conference.

"We need to fix the problem and it requires a legislative solution," he said emphasizing the need for a "narrow" bill that doesn't try to address every immigration problem.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas plans to introduce legislation this week that also prohibits the separation of families. Cruz's proposal requires a surge of immigration judges to the border and the institution of a 14-day expedited adjudication process for asylum claims.

"If we expedite the processing, we can both uphold the rule of law and at the same time ensure that kids are staying with their parents," Cruz told reporters on Tuesday.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas announced a similar bill Monday, saying he planned to reintroduce the Humane Act of 2014, requiring families be kept together to the greatest extent possible while waiting for their court hearings.

Democrats have expressed a desire to move quickly on legislation to keep families together. Cruz said he is hopeful Congress will act "this week." He added, "We'll see if there's common ground where we can come together and solve this problem."

Finding that common ground between at least three bills purporting to do the same thing is already proving difficult.

President Trump seemed to dismiss Cruz's proposal to staff up the immigration courts, saying Tuesday, "I don’t want judges. I want border security."

The text of the Feinstein bill is very limited and does not address where family units are kept while their asylum claims are being processed. To address that issue, a number of Democrats have suggested reinstating an Obama-era program piloted in 2014 to address the shortage of detention centers amid a surge of Central American migrants.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told reporters on Tuesday that the Family Case Management Program could provide a "longterm fix" and would keep families together throughout the process of seeking asylum. Under the program, families were detained for a limited amount of time and were released into the U.S. interior while awaiting their immigration court hearing.

President Trump ended the program in June 2017 claiming few families show up for their court hearings. Trump and many Republicans in Congress have also argued it codifies catch and release.

Advocates of the program say the majority of families appeared for their court dates and prefer the program as a less restrictive and less expensive than detention, which can be as high as $300 per day.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., denounced the Democrats' proposal as "truly an open borders bill." Cotton is currently working with Republican leadership to increase funding for temporary detention centers and repeal the Flores Settlement, a 2015 court ruling that prevented the detention of children for more than 20 days.

"That's not trying to boil the ocean," Cotton told reporters. "It's trying to solve a situation we have at our border right now that Democrats say they want to solve."

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has repeatedly identified the Flores Settlement as one of several immigration "loopholes" that Congress must close to reduce illegal immigration.

As President Trump looks to Capitol Hill for a solution and both sides of the aisle work to draft urgent legislation to keep families together, still others argue there is no need for Congress to act.

"I want to be absolutely clear that no legislation is needed," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told Circa. "The president has created this policy...and we need to keep absolute pressure on the president to change it. We all know that that is easier than legislation."

In April, President Trump implemented a "zero tolerance" policy at the border, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to refer 100 percent of illegal border crossers for prosecution. As the number of criminal prosecutions rose, so too did the number of children rendered "unaccompanied" when their parent or the adult traveling with them was taken into custody.

During the first six weeks the "zero tolerance" policy was in place, DHS reported approximately 2,000 children were separated from the adults they were traveling with. In the past month, that number has increased to 2,342 children between May 5 and June 9.

President Trump and members of his administration have been adamant in their support for the "zero-tolerance" policy and given no indication that they will reverse course. Trump is scheduled to meet with House Republicans Tuesday evening to discuss immigration priorities.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress have a poor record in recent years when it comes to rallying bipartisan support for immigration legislation.

Asked whether the public should expect Congress to agree on a bipartisan bill to end family separations, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a co-sponsor of the Cruz bill, stated, "I expect us to solve the problem."

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