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DHS reveals plan to reunite separated families

The Department of Homeland Security revealed details of its plan to reunite immigrant families after thousands of children were separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border. CNN's Abby Phillip reports.

Posted: Jun 26, 2018 12:14 AM
Updated: Jun 26, 2018 12:16 AM

House Republicans still plan to vote this week on a broad overhaul of the US immigration system. Just as last week, that vote will still fail, aides say.

That will turn all eyes will to biggest outstanding question: Can Congress fix the holes and shortcomings of the Trump administration's hastily cobbled together executive order on family separation?

Bottom line

The writing is (and, to be frank, always was) on the wall with the House effort to overhaul the broader immigration system. The votes, at least inside the House Republican conference, for a House GOP-only negotiated bill, aren't there (and haven't ever been).

That means the real focus of the week is the more tailored effort to address family separations -- and whether there is bipartisan support. The House is almost certain to move on something targeted this week, aides say.

Whether the Senate, which requires Democratic support and has a full schedule with the farm bill this week, can follow suit is an open question.


While there is no hard and fast deadline on the issue, a reminder that Congress leaves for its July 4 recess at the end of this week.

A not unimportant reminder/warning

Congressional action -- even in a narrow, tailored manner -- would be a much-needed bailout for an administration still struggling to implement the somewhat conflicting "zero tolerance" policy and the executive order designed to prioritize keeping families together under that policy (more on why later -- just internalize the word "Flores").

"They need us to do something. We need us to do something. They know that. So hopefully they'll be willing to help us get it done," was how one senior GOP aide put it.

RELATED: Separated parents given option for voluntary deportation amid child reunification

As to whether that aide had confidence the administration would get behind a narrow push? "The administration? Yes. The person who runs the administration? Who knows. Check his Twitter account, I guess."

What to watch for Monday:

• The Senate votes at 5:30 p.m. ET, which will provide the first real chance to get an update on where members stand on a possible targeted bill

• The House votes at 6:30 p.m. ET, which will provide the first real chance to take the temperature of both the broader approach, and a more targeted option

• There is also a bipartisan Senate immigration group meeting on Monday afternoon

Where things stand in the House

In short, the enthusiasm (and any momentum) for the continued negotiations on the broader effort were limited to begin with. Fewer than 12 hours after GOP leaders decided to delay the vote for more talks, they were just about snuffed out entirely via presidential tweet. Lawmakers and staff worked in earnest over the weekend to find a pathway on new E-Verify system language, along with the agriculture visa program, to cobble together new votes.

That has, aides said, mostly fallen short -- not for lack of trying, but for complication of the actual issues themselves. Both have split the party in various ways for years.

All of that means the vote, whenever it occurs, will still fail barring some significant, unexpected twist. The vote will still occur -- leadership promised it to moderates in order to turn off the discharge petition effort. But it's as good as dead. Which means Plan B (or C? Maybe D?) will soon need to be operative.

Crossing that bridge

When it comes to what happens after the failure of the broader efforts, House Speaker Paul Ryan has repeatedly said "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Unsaid is the bridge was already aflame and falling apart under the feet of the Republicans, but let's just say they'll be gingerly making it across at some point in the front half of this week.

There will be an effort to get a narrower bill -- one that essentially overturns the court decision (known as the Flores Consent Decree) that requires migrant minors to be detained for no longer than 20 days -- this week, aides say. It is expected to have enough Republicans support to pass. What else is included in that bill (Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus, has a bill that not only overturns the Flores consent decree, but also tightens the asylum process) will dictate whether any Democrats will come on board.

Policy reality

The Flores consent decree has been identified by Republicans as the central problem with the family separation issue -- at least the problem beyond the administration's "zero tolerance" policy that requires all illegal border crossings to be criminal matters.

Children can't be kept with parents during criminal proceedings, which has nothing to do with Flores. The criminal proceedings typically only take a few days -- at which point the adults go back into government custody for immigration proceedings. Under the "zero-tolerance" policy, the government had already handed the kids over to the Department of Health and Human Services, giving it the ability to detain the parents separately and for longer.

But Republicans, who have long sought to overturn Flores, complain that because they can't detain children with their families longer than 20 days, as Flores dictates, they are forced to release the families before their deportation proceedings can run their course.

For immigration advocates and many Democrats, it's worth recalling that the purpose of the consent decree is actually to protect migrant children. Beyond just the 20-day mandate, it also includes restrictions on the environment in which children can be held -- setting minimum standards of care. Its rationale was to protect, or at least better serve, children.

Worth remembering

The Obama administration grappled with Flores as it pertained to children traveling with their parents during the 2014 Central American migrant crisis. There was an effort to keep families together and speed through the adjudication process for asylum. This effort was challenged in court by immigration advocates and the advocates won -- and in the process the courts set the 20-day holding timeline for children as a generally accepted standard.

In the Senate

With the actual policy in mind, that brings us to the Senate, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers have been meeting to try and craft a path forward, and Republicans have proposals -- one drafted by Sen. Ted Cruz, another by Sen. Thom Tillis that has the support of 28 colleagues, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- that would supersede Flores, finance hundreds of new immigration judges, prioritize cases of detained families and set new guidelines for the facilities and standards for detained families.

Cruz and Tillis are attempting to find a path forward with their Democratic counterparts, all of whom have signed on to a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, that would essentially block the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy.

Is there a sweet spot

Here's the crux of the issue: Democrats are opposed to superceding Flores on the grounds that children, even if still with their families, would be held in detention facilities for long periods of time given the length of some asylum proceedings. Republicans are opposed to releasing families until as the proceedings move through the system on the grounds that it codifies the so-called "catch and release" policy that has been the bane of the Trump administration's existence since its inception.

With those as the baselines, it's pretty difficult to see a path forward that can get a large majority of the Senate to support any fix. McConnell has made clear he wants to move on something, and soon. Whether there's a bipartisan option to move on -- or whether there are enough Democrats, for political reasons or otherwise, McConnell can pick off to come on board to a GOP-led proposal, remain to be seen.

Of course...

Surging immigration judges is a key piece of just about every GOP proposal out there right now -- and the President has now on multiple occasions railed against hiring new immigration judges. He also tweeted this:

"When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order."

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