Senators Push Plans for Migrants on US-Mexico Border
While U.S. immigration reform failed again in the House of Representatives, senators on Wednesday promoted competing partisan plans to address the plight of undocumented families detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Senate Democrats unveiled a multipronged proposal, the Central American Reform and Relief Act, that aims to alleviate pressure along America’s southern border by curbing violence and lawlessness in countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The bill would increase American resources to fight drug cartels in Central America, strengthen federal criminal penalties for traffickers and smugglers, reverse cuts in U.S. aid to the region, and boost resources at U.S. embassies and consulates to process asylum claims.
“If they [Central Americans] can claim asylum right there, it’s very much better for them and very much better for us,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “We need to address root causes that lead families to flee Central America to our southern border.”
Elements of the proposal are modeled after Plan Colombia, which boosted U.S. assistance to Bogota beginning in 2000 to help end the country’s civil war and reduce the drug trade.
“In Colombia, the U.S. involvement helped greatly curtail the cartels there. That’s why many of them moved to these three Central American countries. Well, we can do the same thing in Central America,” Schumer said.
Republicans, meanwhile, promoted their own bill that would end separations of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border and reduce detentions of undocumented border crossers overall by boosting the number of federal immigration judges overseeing a long backlog of cases.
“We have 350 immigration judges in the country,” Oklahoma Senator James Lankford said. “We have a backlog of 700,000 immigration cases right now.”
The Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act aims to facilitate President Donald Trump’s executive order to halt family separations while retaining the president’s zero-tolerance policy on illegal entry into the United States.
“We can actually enforce our immigration laws and keep families together,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said.
‘Look at alternatives’
Many Democrats object to prosecuting every illegal border crossing — a policy the Trump administration began earlier this year — saying it is unnecessary and part of a broader campaign by the president to deter asylum seekers and other immigrants from impoverished regions.
“When people do come to the border, we should look at alternatives to detention to keep families together,” Schumer said.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois noted that for decades, the United States granted close to 100,000 asylum claims a year, but that there have been only 18,000 so far this year.
“I believe we can do better. And I believe there are those in need of help. And I believe this is a definition of who we are as Americans. The way we treat the people at our borders — if we are humane, if we are civilized, if we are caring — it’s a message to the world. If we are the opposite, it’s also a message to the world,” Durbin said.
Republicans countered that failing to prosecute undocumented migrants only encourages more illegal border crossings.
“What we’ve created is an incentive to come into the country illegally — that if you cross the border and bring your family, you’ll be released into the country and then you can just disappear and no one will ever go and try to find you,” Lankford said.
Cornyn accused Democrats of promoting policies that would go “from zero tolerance when it comes to violating the immigration laws to zero enforcement.”