Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced Monday evening that he was introducing emergency legislation to immediately end the practice of family separation and speed up the review of asylum cases in an attempt to stem the tide of fury aimed at Republicans and the Trump administration.
“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers. This must stop,” Cruz said in a statement.
This represents a reversal from just a few days ago, when Cruz defended the policy to a local Texas news outlet: “As a U.S. citizen, if you commit a crime and get arrested, you’re separated from your kids. And if you’re the only caregiver, your children have to find alternative caregivers — whether family members, friends or foster care. What all the media attention on separation of families is really saying, is don’t incarcerate those who come here illegally.”
Cruz is taking a step Republicans may be coming around to: The Trump administration policy’s of family separation is attracting horrific press — especially in border states like Texas. Notably, Cruz is facing a strong Democratic challenger this fall in Beto O’Rourke, who has been running as a champion of immigrant communities in the state.
HotAir.com’s Allahpundit wrote that introducing the bill could be a function of “electoral terror, plain and simple.”
What Cruz’s bill aims to do on family separation
Set to be introduced by Cruz in the Senate this week, the Protect Kids and Parents Act would aim to do the following:
Double the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.
Authorize new temporary shelters, with accommodations to keep families together.
Mandate that illegal immigrant families be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.
Provide for expedited processing and review of asylum cases, so that — within 14 days — those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum, and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.
"This has to stop," Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said when asked about the separation of migrant families at the border in his state.— POLITICO (@politico) June 19, 2018
He'll also be introducing legislation "that will mandate that kids must stay with their parents." pic.twitter.com/2j0Z515d88
But the 14-day asylum claim deadline received immediate pushback.
Asylum cases are complicated: Testimony has to be collected from often traumatized asylum seekers; documents may have to be sent from other countries to back up their claims; reports about the conditions in their home countries have to be put together. It’s impossible to do all of this in 14 days — the average asylum case takes about 50 hours of a single lawyer’s time, and lawyers are always working on multiple cases at once.
Furthermore, when families are being kept in immigration detention, it’s hard for them to even get access to lawyers — when the Obama administration tried to fast-track processing and deportation of asylum-seeking families in 2014, there was one pro bono lawyer for every 120 detainees. The result, according to one of the lawyers who talked to Vox’s Dara Lind, was a “shitshow.”
Even conservative writer and contributor to the Federalist Gabriel Malor pointed out this was unrealistic.
Good cause is the current standard for continuances in immigration proceedings.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) June 18, 2018
Every immigration practitioner in America just simultaneously scoffed at the idea they could reasonably be expected to scrape together an asylum claim in 14 days or less. https://t.co/pKIU95nKD0
Even if Cruz’s bill did get attention in Congress — which is unclear, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not said whether the Senate will take up the bill and the House is set to vote on a set of largely unrelated immigration issues this week — the White House has stated that it will not consider supporting standalone legislation on family separation. Instead, the White House says it wants Congress to “fix the whole thing.”
But the family separation issue is taking up political oxygen, and congressional Republicans might be emboldened to go against Trump. If Cruz’s bill could get a veto-proof majority of support in the Senate, that would render the White House’s position moot (though that seems unlikely).
The White House says it would reject a narrow fix to address children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it wants Congress to "fix the whole thing."@PressSec: "We want to fix the whole thing, we don't want to tinker with just part of it."— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) June 18, 2018
Democrats have united behind the Keep Families Together Act
Meanwhile, Democrats have united behind their own bill to end family separation.
On Monday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin became the 49th Democrat to support California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to end the practice of separating children from their parents unless they are being abused or trafficked, or a court decides it’s in the child’s best interest. In a statement on the legislation, Manchin said, “As a father, grandfather, and Christian, I am wholeheartedly opposed to any policy that allows innocent children to be separated from their parents as they enter our country.”
Though Manchin has attempted to stay close to Trump due to the president’s overwhelming popularity in Manchin’s home state of West Virginia, the senator’s willingness to join his Democratic colleagues is indicative of the family separation policy’s overwhelming unpopularity with Democrats, independents, and even a plurality of Republicans.
For more on family separation, listen to the June 18th episode of Today Explained.