Rather than join the 49 Democratic senators who have signed on to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Keep Families Together Act, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) this week announced his own legislation geared towards addressing the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of separating immigrant families detained at the border.
The bill, called the Protect Kids and Parents Act, would provide more resources for immigration judges to adjudicate asylum claims in just 14 days and require the federal government to keep immigrant families together “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”
On the surface, the legislation seems like a common sense solution that could ease the burgeoning immigration backlog while keeping families together, but that’s just not realistic.
Two weeks is not nearly enough time to adequately put together an asylum claim. The average asylum case can eat up about 50 hours of a single lawyer’s time, and they typically work on multiple cases at once. Some immigration lawyers claim they’re still working on cases from 10 or more years ago.
The Obama administration already attempted to fast-track the processing and deportation of asylum cases in 2014 to disastrous results. Judges prohibited lawyers from participating in their clients’ court hearings and denied textbook asylum claims. Asylum officers began churning out upwards of 100 cases a week and were careless with how they phrased questions to immigrants, making it difficult for them to understand the legal terminology. ICE agents wouldn’t let detainees leave the detention center after they passed their asylum screening. The agency claimed they were a “national security risk” and needed to be held for the weeks or months it took to finish their case.
In addition to the fast-tracking of asylum cases, the bill would double the number of federal immigration judges from roughly 375 to 750 and authorize new temporary shelters, with accommodations to keep families together.
That Cruz would propose a bill that doesn’t effectively remedy the humanitarian issue of family separation at the border isn’t necessarily surprising given the senator’s recent change of heart on the issue. His flip-flop is pure politics.
The day before he announced this new legislation, Cruz defended the policy, telling reporters in San Antonio, Texas, “When you see reporters, when you see Democrats saying, ‘Don’t separate kids from their parents,’ what they’re really saying is don’t arrest illegal aliens.”
Despite support from his colleague Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Cruz’s legislation faces some significant obstacles.
Although Cruz labeled the bill “emergency” legislation, the new shelters to house families and double the amount of immigration judges Cruz is calling for won’t happen overnight. Moreover, the legislative text of the bill doesn’t even exist yet.
By contrast, Feinstein’s bill, with its 49 supporters, is currently the only piece of legislation that would effectively ban the separation of families at the border, barring any evidence that a child is being trafficked or abused by their parents. The bill currently has no support from Republicans in the Senate.