WASHINGTON — As the White House pressed for a deal in which separation of families would stop as part of a comprehensive immigration bill that includes President Trump’s desired border wall funding, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) announced he would introduce emergency legislation to stop the controversial deterrence and enforcement policy.
Cruz’s forthcoming bill, which he promised to introduce this week, isn’t expected to come with riders sought by the administration or conservative colleagues such as limiting family reunification, stopping the diversity visa lottery, or limiting legal immigration.
The senator’s office did say, though, that the Protect Kids and Parents Act would mandate quickie asylum claim investigations and processing, meaning those claiming asylum found not to qualify would be adjudicated and shuttled back to their home countries within two weeks. This comes as the administration narrowed the window to meet the asylum threshold, announcing recently that women fleeing domestic violence or immigrants fleeing gang violence would not qualify for asylum.
Cruz’s bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize temporary family shelters, and mandate undocumented families be kept together “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”
“The answer is not what congressional Democrats are proposing: simply releasing illegal aliens and returning to the failed policy of ‘catch and release.’ Rather, we should fix the backlog in immigration cases, remove the legal barriers to swift processing, and resolve asylum cases on an expedited basis,” Cruz said in a statement Monday.
“While these cases are pending, families should stay together. Children belong with their mothers and fathers. Once their cases have been adjudicated – under my legislation, in no longer than 14 days – those who meet the legal standard should be granted asylum and those who don’t should be immediately returned to their home country.”
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who is challenging Cruz for his Senate seat, led a march Sunday on a tent city housing detained children. He told Texas Monthly that a bill will be coming from House Democrats to end family separation.
“Everyone is trying to bring Republican colleagues who’ve expressed some amount of shock or dismay at family separation into this effort. Ultimately, it’s going to take both sides to get this passed and force a decision from the administration. That’s the preferable route,” O’Rourke said. “The other thing is the administration and their abettors in Congress are proposing to resolve the DREAMer [DACA] deportation crisis by guaranteeing temporary reprieve from deportation for DREAMers in exchange for changing our asylum laws and, maybe in one version of it, ending family separation.”
O’Rourke acknowledged it’s “going to be tough” but said he hoped public outcry would “galvanize the public conscience and force our colleagues to do the right thing.”
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) told CNN on Monday that “there are a lot of questions that DOJ and HHS haven’t answered.”
“Is this policy actually working? I don’t think separating a kid from their mommy will prevent terrorists or drugs from coming into our country,” he said. “And so how do these parents know where their kids are? How do their kids where their parents are? We know about the psychological effects of separating families and separating parents from their kids.”
While President Trump says the burden is on Democrats to acquiesce to a border package that includes the riders sought by the White House, Hurd said the policy “is something that is squarely within the hands of this administration to ultimately change.”
“If there was standalone legislation to address this, I’m sure it would get north of 300 votes,” Hurd added. “What has happened for us to have to craft legislation to say don’t pull kids out of the arms of their mothers? We shouldn’t be at this point. The land of the free and home of the brave we shouldn’t be using kids for deterrents.”