WASHINGTON – Republicans crafting an immigration bill want to overturn a contentious component of President Donald Trump’s border enforcement strategy: separating parents and children who cross the border together.
Children who cross the border with their parents can only be released back to their parents, even if that would mean putting the family in a detention facility, under immigration legislation being drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Its text, released Thursday, would require that officials place children who crossed the border with a parent or legal guardian only be placed with that parent or guardian, not any other relatives or foster settings.
“In no circumstances shall an alien minor who is not an unaccompanied alien child be released by the Secretary of Homeland Security other than to a parent or legal guardian,” the text reads.
The 293-page bill, a compromise between Republicans looking to reform immigration law and the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is likely to face a House vote next week.
Under the recently announced zero-tolerance policy, children and parents (or legal guardians) who cross the border together are separated. That’s because the adult is at least temporarily placed in a detention facility, while current law says children have to be placed in the “least restrictive” setting.
The zero-tolerance policy charges all adults who cross the border unlawfully with a crime, even if they’re seeking asylum.
The Department of Homeland Security currently takes children who cross the border with their parents illegally to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses children temporarily and evaluates where to place them long-term.
That could be with the parent, if they are in a setting that qualifies under the “least restrictive” setting standard, or to another family member or a foster home. The new policy cuts out the Department of Health and Human Services’ role completely.