Jun 12, 2018, 5:12 PM ET

Democrats move to reverse DHS policy that leads to separated families

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Several Democratic senators introduced a measure Tuesday that would reverse new Trump administration policies that have the effect of separating children from their parents when they try to cross the U.S. border illegally.

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The effort, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would prohibit border patrol agents and all other officers from removing a child from his or her parent or legal guardian anywhere within 100 miles of the U.S. border, except for a few narrow exceptions dealing with court orders and suspicions of child trafficking.

The bill is a response to a Department of Homeland Security policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 8, under which all illegal immigrants, including asylum-seekers, face prosecution. The new policy also led to adults being detained separately from their children. The difference between the new policy and the one in place under President Barack Obama is that, once the adults had their initial hearing, they would be reunited with their children, released into the U.S. and given a notice requiring them to appear for a future court date.

The Trump administration has said that policy, which officials derisively call “Catch and Release,” leads to many people simply disappearing into the United States.

Last week, Sessions said that the administration could "work at" having facilities where parents remain united with their children but this legislation would hasten those efforts by prohibiting them from doing otherwise.

There are already three ICE family residential centers, which, as of last week, were holding 2,607 people.

“This child-snatching has to end, and it has to end immediately. It is a dark scar on the heart of this administration and on the heart of our nation,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a cosponsor of the bill who visited a processing center at the border over Memorial Day Weekend, said during a press conference Tuesday announcing the bill.

Merkley also announced he would be introducing a separate act that would require border officials to grant members of Congress access to detention centers if they requested it. During his trip, Merkley also attempted to access such a facility, overseen by the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement and administered by a nonprofit organization. Administration officials said he had not given the facility enough time to prepare for a visit, having contacted them only two days before he tried to enter.

At the Tuesday event on Capitol Hill, the Democratic senators also decried a separate DOJ policy shift that Sessions announced Monday that would essentially remove domestic violence and gang violence as allowable reasons for asylum in the United States.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., noted that this policy would disproportionately affect women, who represent the majority of domestic abuse victims, and minors, who are frequently brought to the U.S. with their parents to flee gang violence in their home countries.

“This is all supposedly in the name of border security but in fact what we have is a government that is ripping families apart instead of keeping them together,” Harris said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the asylum policy shift a betrayal of American values.

“People will suffer brutality and the blood will be on Jeff Sessions' hands,” he said.

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  • USGP

    The author exaggerates. The "old" policy, known as The Flores Agreement, stated that children were to be kept in the "least restrictive manner possible". It also stated that the children were to be placed with a relative, a sponsor, or in licensed care facility, in that order. It had nothing to do with how their parents were processed. It's far more moral to NOT keep children in federal detention facilities for the weeks or months that it takes for the parent's case to be resolved. What they actually want is for anyone who crosses the border to be immediately released with no questions, no background check, no examination into whether they have a legitimate claim for asylum. Just because they crossed the border with a child, who may or may not be theirs.

  • The Truth Hurts

    Party of "Family values" my arse.

  • Laura Ann

    The Democrats can't reverse Net Neutrality but they think they have the power to reverse Jeff Sessions law to separate the family's of Illegal immigrants? Democrats don't have any power and can't sort themselves out but they think they can sway a few Republican's to bend in their direction on this case? LOL! I'd love to see them try.

  • Laura Ann

    I agree with Jeff Sessions stop allowing illegal immigrants to abuse the asylum card by stating they are freeing from some gang member or an abusive relationship. Illegal immigrants are flat out lying and using these excuses to get into the country. What should happen is Trump should sit down with Mexico's President and brain storm some ideas to get Mexico in order. If that means America sending in troops to clean up Mexico or collecting every illegal immigrant in America and shipping them back over the boarder and releasing them in front of Mexico's Presidents house. Another idea America should consider is barring tourism into Mexico because Tourism is Mexico's bread and butter. Let Mexico's President know that he will be ending American Tourism if he doesn't work out a solution to get the drug cartel in check. That means, Mexico's President need to sit down with his Country's officials and put together a harsher sentences of gang members and leaders that includes the death penalty too. If Mexico start sentencing these drug leaders to death then that would get everyone else in line. And after Mexico start jailing and killing off these drug lords they can then set fire to every poppy plant and drug den in the Country. If Mexico's President had the nerve and spine to do any of these things Mexican's would stop sneaking into America. Also, maybe create a bill that states any women who enters the United States illegally and gives birth child will not be recognized as American. Period.

  • Citizen

    Easy way to fix is to send them back across border with their parents then we're not paying for any of them to be in our country illegally it's ridiculous that the kids get left in the US to be raised by tax dollars