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June 26, 2019

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Senate candidates back competing measures on immigrant family separation


U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.

Lawmakers in Congress are pushing for legislative solutions to prevent the separation of immigrant children from their families at the border even after the Trump administration today released its executive order on the issue.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that some immigration advocates argue is vague and mired in legal concerns. Bills in Congress also seek to end the newly-implemented policy that has led to the separations and GOP leadership is expected to bring broader immigration proposals forward this week.

House Democrats are supporting the Keep Families Together Act, a bill that’s also been introduced in the Senate with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s support and seeks to limit prosecutions of asylum seekers, among other provisions. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., running to replace Republican Sen. Dean Heller, and her campaign called on him to urge the president to act.

Trump will be in Las Vegas for Saturday’s Nevada Republican Party Convention and to fundraise with Heller.

“If Senator Heller cares about doing what’s right, he should take real action by joining me in signing on to the Keep Families Together Act and personally urging President Trump to end this heartless family separation policy at their joint fundraiser in Las Vegas this weekend,” Rosen said in a campaign statement Tuesday.

Heller joined a group of Republicans today in introducing the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act, which carves out exceptions for taking children from parents who cannot verify the child is theirs, among other provisions. Heller has also joined a group of Republican senators in asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the separations while Congress comes up with a solution.

“Dean Heller has not only urged the administration to keep these families together, but he’s also been clear for weeks where he’s stood on this issue,” Heller campaign spokesman Keith Schipper said.

Heller’s Senate office did not answer whether he plans to directly appeal to Trump on the issue.

The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy for prosecuting people who cross the border, including asylum seekers, has led to thousands of children being put in detention away from their families. The separations have been highly criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike, including former first lady Laura Bush. Two airlines have asked the government not to put these children on their planes, according to the Associated Press.

The more than 2,000 children who have already been separated from their families will not be grandfathered into the policy set out in the executive order, according to the New York Times. It can take years for asylum cases to reach a conclusion, setting up legal questions about how long families can be detained and what conditions they can be kept in.

The president’s executive order does not mean that the family separations will completely stop, immigration advocates said Wednesday at an event organization America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group. The group said Trump’s order gives families a “false choice” between indefinite incarceration and giving up their fight for asylum.

“This does not end family separation,” said Kerri Talbot, legislative director of the Immigration Hub. “There is no section in this executive order saying that they will not separate families under any circumstances or even in limited circumstances. It’s only about giving them broader powers to detain and talking about seeking permission from the courts to detain.”

Advocates said this zero-tolerance policy is creating a manufactured crisis in order to force Congress to vote on GOP immigration bills rather than bipartisan proposals. They said this has been the administration’s immigration strategy, such as when Trump sought to end deportation protection for certain young immigrants under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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