Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Asylum & Detention Reform Bill to Address Border Crisis Over Democrats’ Protests
Do you support the Secure & Protect Act's reforms to asylum & child detention policies?
by Countable | 8.1.19
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would reform asylum laws and detention policies for migrant children on a party-line vote of 12-10 on Thursday despite attempts by committee Democrats to delay the bill’s consideration.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the bill ― the Secure and Protect Act (S. 1494) ― in May and the committee held hearings on the bill in mid-June in which Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testified in support of it.
Graham delayed scheduling a markup hearing on the bill until July 25th in an unsuccessful attempt to secure bipartisan support, but when Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was the only minority committee member to attend the hearing Democrats effectively postponed its consideration by denying the committee a quorum (which requires two minority senators in attendance). Graham warned that “despite this attempted delay, we will vote on this legislation next week.”
With a quorum present at today’s hearing, Democrats asked to hold the bill over until the committee next meets after the Senate returns from recess in September. Graham denied their request and offered a motion which allowed the Republican majority to call the bill up for a vote despite Democrats’ objections to what they called an “illegal” and “illegitimate” vote on a bill that wouldn’t even get a vote in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. Graham offered the following statement in response to the committee’s passage of the bill:
“I’m willing to do more to help Central America, but I’m not willing to walk away from changing our laws to stop the massive flow of immigrants coming from Central America and now, throughout the world. Our immigration officials have told me that this legislation, if enacted, would reduce approximately 80% of the flow overnight. I have tried to work with my Democratic colleagues to find a win-win solution, but have failed thus far. My hope is to always achieve bipartisanship, but the current crisis at the border has become a disaster. To do nothing is to maintain the horrific situation we find ourselves in today. That’s unacceptable.”
How would the bill address the border crisis?
The bill would allow migrant children to be detained in family units with their parents or guardians while their case is heard. The maximum amount of time migrant children can be detained would be increased from the current 20 days under the Flores v. Reno settlement agreement to 100 days, while immigration courts would prioritize cases involving children with a 100-day case completion goal. As these charts from USAFacts show, there has been a recent surge in apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors at the border:
Graham’s bill would authorize the Justice Dept. to hire at least 500 additional immigration judges and a corresponding amount of support staff to speed the processing of immigration cases, including asylum applications. The standard used to assess asylum applicants’ claims of persecution in their home country would be elevated from the current standard of proving a “significant possibility” of being persecuted to a “more likely than not” standard.
These changes would aim to reduce the backlog and volume of asylum applications, which have risen substantially in recent years as evidenced by this chart from USAFacts showing the spike in “credible fear” screenings carried out by Customs & Immigration Services to vet asylum applicants:
Further, the bill would require that applications for asylum made by residents of Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) be made at U.S. ports of entry or at refugee processing centers to be established in those countries and Mexico. The bill would require at least one processing center in Mexico and at least three in the Northern Triangle countries.
According to data compiled by USAFacts, the Northern Triangle countries combined to account for 43% of all asylum claims in FY2017 and has been driven by violence and poverty. The changes proposed by this bill would aim to deter asylum-seekers from making a long and dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S. border and entering the country illegally.
Original cosponsor Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) added:
"Our current immigration crisis is a direct result of loopholes in our laws that encourage illegal migration. This solution is a humane approach to gaining operational control of our borders while addressing the root cause that entices families and children to embark on the dangerous journey north. I appreciate Senator Graham's leadership to get our bill to the Senate floor and ultimately on the President's desk -- the American people deserve it."
What’s next for the bill?
The Secure and Protect Act (S. 1494) could be considered on the Senate floor after senators return from their recess on September 9th, although it isn’t clear when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will schedule it for a vote.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: U.S. Customs & Border Protection via Flickr / Public Domain)
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