(AP) – Republicans on Capitol Hill frantically searched yesterday for ways to end the Trump Administration’s policy of separating families after illegal border crossings, with the focus shifting to a new plan to keep children in detention longer than now permitted … but with their parents.
House GOP leaders revisited their legislation amid a public outcry over the Administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal crossings. The change would loosen rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days, according to a GOP source familiar with the measure. Instead, the children could be detained with their parents for extended periods.
The revised Bill would also give Department of Homeland Security the authority to use US$7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centres, the person said. Expanded facilities could be key, as migrant children separated from their parents are currently housed by a different department, Health and Human Services.
The person providing the information on the proposal was not authorised to do so by name, and commented only on condition of anonymity.
House Republicans scrambled to update their approach ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss a broader immigration overhaul that is to be voted on this week. Trump called for Congress to approve the so-called third option yesterday.
“So what I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year — the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit,” Trump said. “We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.”
Trump’s meeting at the Capitol comes as lawmakers in both parties are up in arms after days of news reports showing images of children being held at border facilities in cages and an audio recording of a young child pleading for his “Papa”.
The issue boiled over yesterday at a House hearing on an unrelated subject when protesters with babies briefly shut down proceedings.
Maryland Rep Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pleaded with Republicans on the panel to end what he called “internment camps”.
“We need you. Those children need you —and I am talking directly to my Republican colleagues— we need you to stand up to President Donald Trump,” he said.
Under the current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the US Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama Administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their children at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The national outcry over the separations has roiled midterm election campaigns, emboldening Democrats while putting Republicans on the defensive.