clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Democratic Senate bill that would stop family separations, explained

It has the support of all Democrats and no Republicans.

Senate Democrats Introduce ‘Keep Families Together Act’ For Migrants Mark Wilson/Getty Images

There is currently just one bill in the US Senate that would stop the Trump administration policy of family separation. The Keep Families Together Act now has the support of every single Senate Democrat, but no Republicans have yet signed on.

The bill was introduced a couple weeks ago by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. Feinstein’s bill would outlaw family separations except in very specific cases — when there’s reason to believe a child is being trafficked or abused by his or her parents.

“Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand and say that families should not be forcibly separated,” Feinstein said in a statement. “To traumatize them further is unconscionable, and I hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to put an end to this immoral policy.”

There is unanimous agreement among the Senate Democratic caucus to support the bill. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia became the last Democrat to sign on to the bill on Monday, saying that while he supports increased security and even a wall on the southern border, “no law requires pulling children from the arms of their parents.”

But it’s looking unlikely that Senate Republicans will join; instead, Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn say they will introduce their own legislation to address the issue. Many Republicans in Congress say they don’t agree with the Trump administration’s policy of family separations, but no Republican senators have signed on to Feinstein’s bill.

Still, at least one Republican in the House seems open to Feinstein’s bill. Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman announced Tuesday that he’s open to supporting the bill, even offering to introduce it in the House.

“This afternoon, I reached out to Sen. Feinstein’s office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border,” Coffman said in a statement. “If that means introducing her bill in the House, I’d be honored to stand with her.”

What is the Keep Families Together Act?

The legislation, introduced on June 8, would ban the separation of families at the border unless there is evidence that a child is being trafficked or abused by his or her parents. Feinstein’s bill puts a number of measures in place to ensure abuse is actually occurring before children are taken away from their families.

Specifically, the bill would allow separation if a state court terminated an undocumented person’s parental rights or an official from a state or county child welfare agency decided it was in the best interest of the child to be removed.

In other words, the bill pushes back on the Trump administration’s argument that by simply crossing the border, undocumented parents are breaking the law and therefore must face the consequences of having their children taken away. Feinstein’s bill would make this happen only if there’s evidence that the child is in direct danger by staying with the parents.

Beyond having the support of all of Feinstein’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate, the Keep Families Together Act has the support of a number of medical and immigrant advocacy organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Kids in Need of Defense, Children’s Law Center, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

What the bill doesn’t have is support from Republicans — which it would need in order to pass the Senate.

There’s no indication that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will entertain the notion of bringing the bill to the floor, especially since two of his Republican colleagues have floated the idea of proposing their own bills to halt family separation.

Cornyn said he plans to unveil legislation that would keep families together while undocumented children wait for their status hearing, which he says should be expedited.

“I think we all can agree that it’s a terrible outcome to see the children separated from their parents,” Cornyn said at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

It’s expected that Cornyn will amend a previous piece of legislation he authored, the Humane Act, which would expedite the hearings of undocumented children. Cruz has also announced his intention to file a bill. But while Cruz’s bill would theoretically keep families together, it would also deport them faster. The bill would increase the number of immigration judges to hear these cases but also deport anyone whose asylum claim is denied within 14 days.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.