WASHINGTON – Congress appears to be kicking the can on a fix to the separation of immigrant families, even as the federal government admits it will not be able to reunite separated immigrant children under age 5 with their parents by a court-imposed Tuesday deadline.
The House of Representatives is waiting for guidance from the White House and other involved agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice before putting forth a bill to resolve the issue, according to a senior House Republican aide.
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to requests for the administration’s stance on the issue, or what officials had recently communicated to Congress.
“Well, I have a solution,” President Donald Trump said Tuesday morning when asked about the child separation problems. “Tell people not to come to our country illegally.”
In the Senate, a bipartisan team of senators including Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, have been working on a compromise bill. But that has also stalled, as senators look for further guidance from the Trump administration, such as how long people are being detained and what departments need more resources, Tillis said. He could not specify when a vote was likely to occur.
“I think it depends on when we can get consensus, so we won’t be subjected to delay tactics, which we’ve seen around here quite a bit,” Tillis told McClatchy. “I don’t know if it can happen this week, but we’re hoping it can happen soon.”
The family separation issue came to the fore after the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for border crossings in May. Any immigrants caught crossing the border outside ports of entry would be charged with a crime and thus detained by immigration authorities. Under current law, children are not allowed to be detained in the same conditions as the government can detain adults. That prompted mass separations of children from their parents at the border.
Trump tried to resolve the problem with an executive order that allowed families to be detained together. But a conflicting court decision issued in a federal court in California Monday said laws that restrict the government’s ability to detain children still stand.
Los Angeles-based U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee said in her opinion that the Trump administration was trying to bypass congressional inaction.
“It is apparent that defendants’ application is a cynical attempt … to shift responsibility to the judiciary for over 20 years of congressional inaction and ill-considered executive action that have led to the current stalemate,” Gee wrote.
With focus shifting to the contested Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, it’s unclear when Congress will have a bill to clear up the issue.
In the meantime, officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday they would not be able to return immigrant children younger than 5 to their parents by the end of the day, a deadline set by another federal judge based in California. The officials said they had reunited only four of the 102 children who fell under that category, and were in the process of reuniting another 51. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego had given them 2 weeks to reunify those children.
An additional 20 children were likely eligible to be reunified but would not by the deadline due to “logistical impediments,” such as the parents being deported, and 27 children were not currently eligible for reunification, due to issues such as the parents having a criminal history.
That doesn’t bode well for the second deadline set by Sabraw. The Trump administration has until July 26 – 30 days from the court order – to reunite children ages 5 and older with their parents. About 2,000 total immigrant children were separated from their parents.
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