Calling President Donald Trump's executive order to end family separation "dangerous" and "disgusting," House Democrats on Wednesday introduced a bill to end Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy and ensure that no families are separated by the government after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
"President Trump and his administration have implemented a heartless, cruel, and dangerous policy of separating families who arrive in the United States seeking asylum. They see children as bargaining chips, and as pawns in service of their anti-immigrant mission," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol. "The Keep Families Together Act does what this administration won't do, by including a variety of measures to prevent children from being separated from their parents."
The Keep Families Together Act (H.R. 6135) would bar Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials from separating children from their parents after they cross the border, except in extraordinary circumstances including when parental rights have been terminated. The bill—after Americans and the international community were outraged to hear a staffer at a children's detention center mocking a group of crying children this week—would also strengthen child welfare training for all Customs and Border Patrol agents, create family reunification procedures, and defer prosecution for asylum seekers.
H.R. 6135—a companion bill to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) Keep Families Together Act—has won endorsements from dozens of immigrant rights and human rights groups including the ACLU, the Latin American Working Group, the New York Immigration Coalition, Amnesty International USA, and the National Immigrant Justice Center. Advocates say the proposal would offer far more protections than those Republicans have put forward and the executive order Trump signed after bowing to international pressure.
Trump's order does nothing to end Attorney General Jeff Sessions' "zero tolerance" policy, which demands that parents who cross the border with their children be subject to criminal prosecution. It directs federal agencies to continue detaining children, but to keep families together in family detention centers indefinitely—potentially flouting the 1997 Flores settlement agreement which mandates that families with children can be held only for 20 days.
"Donald Trump doesn't care about immigrant children," CREDO campaign manager Nicole Regalado said in a statement. "Issuing an executive order to indefinitely detain families is proof of that, and we cannot accept, much less applaud, the replacement of one vile policy with another."
Two bills that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is planning to bring to a vote on the House floor on Thursday would also do little to help families tied up in the U.S. immigration system.
A so-called "compromise" bill would keep families together for long periods of detention, provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, in exchange for $16 billion in funding for a border wall. As James Gibney at Bloomberg wrote:
Those billions might be more effectively spent in addressing the factors that drive Central Americans to flee north in the first place. The U.S. could, for example, work with Central American countries to internally relocate those threatened by gang or domestic violence.
Another hardline proposal sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) would grant Dreamers only temporary protections and make major cuts to immigration via the visa lottery and family sponsorship systems.
The immigrant rights group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) spoke out against the Goodlatte bill last week.
"The future of our children, or families, and our communities hang in the balance, and we refuse to accept Congressional inaction as the norm," said Suman Raghunathan. "Bills like the Goodlatte are exercises in bigotry."