No Exit

Congress continues to wrestle with an ongoing immigration fiasco

Raùl Grijalva: “The alternative to family separation…can’t be family incarceration.”
Raùl Grijalva: “The alternative to family separation…can’t be family incarceration.”

As the U.S. House of Representatives continued to flounder on immigration reform, Dreamers continue to feel like hostages.

Local DACA recipient Cynthia Magallanes, who founded the nonprofit Free Ever After to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual exploitation, has three young children who are U.S. citizens, one of whom has special needs.

"Living in fear of constant separation has definitely intensified that stress and intensified the situation with our home," she says.

She's not likely to see resolution any time soon. As of the Weekly's Tuesday afternoon print deadline, GOP leaders were struggling to find support for a major immigration proposal that would create a pathway to citizenship for a select group of Dreamers, based on time working or in school — disadvantaging single parents and caregivers. The legislation would also place new limits on family-based immigration and includes $25 billion for a border wall and stepped-up security, as well as the elimination of the diversity visa lottery. Should it come up for a vote—a promise House Speaker Paul Ryan made to moderate Republicans in exchange for them abandoning a push for legislation that could pass with bipartisan support—the bill is expected to fail because it contained too many hardline positions for Democrats to support and amounted to amnesty for Dreamers in the view of members of the hardline Freedom Caucus.

This so-called compromise legislation comes after a more hardline bill failed last week. Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia). The legislation was championed by Southern Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally, whose office sent out a press release crowing that the bill "nearly passed" after it failed last week.

As she seeks the Senate seat of retiring Republican Jeff Flake, McSally has veered far to the right on immigration and withdrawn her support of the more moderate immigration bill, the Recognizing America's Children Act. Last September, in an interview with the Tucson Weekly, McSally wholeheartedly supported the Republican-backed bill that would have created a path to citizenship for many Dreamers.

Southern Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ03) said the McSally-backed bill that "nearly passed" was flawed in many ways. It offered no path to citizenship for Dreamers and would have turned being undocumented into a criminal rather than civil offense.

"The wall is in there," he said during a press call on June 19. "It slashes legal immigration 20 to 30 percent. It makes it impossible for families to immigrate into our legal system to be together and mandates that local law enforcement must be part of the enforcement of immigration laws."

Grijalva was also critical of the Trump administration's new proposal to solve the unpopular family separation policy with a new policy of locking juveniles up with their undocumented parents in federal detention centers.

"The alternative to family separation...can't be family incarceration," said Grijalva. "There has to be an alternative to incarceration. There has to be the social work component. And just warehousing children with their families is not going to be a fix."

Besides the logistics of locking up families seeking asylum, there's a legal issue: A court settlement, commonly referred to as the Flores decision, prevents the government from keeping juveniles in detention for more than 20 days.

Executive Director of Mi Familia Vota Ben Monterroso said there are a number of alternatives to family separation such as regular check ins, ankle monitors or the effective Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that kept asylum-seeking families out of detention and together. The Trump administration ended that program last year.

"What the administration is doing is prosecuting people who are exercising their legal right to apply for asylum in the United States," Monterroso said. "They do not need to prosecute these people in the first place. They can allow them to go through their asylum proceedings."

Previous administrations handled illegal crossings as a civil offense and released families seeking asylum to return at a later court date. Trump has long decried this policy, which he calls "catch and release." And while his administration has repeatedly said asylum seekers don't show up in court, 2016 data from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that 80 percent of asylum seekers see their case through.

The Trump administration filed a motion on Thursday to amend the Flores agreement so there's no time limit on detaining minors. Several news reports said that House Republicans are also considering a stand-alone bill that would end family separation with a workaround to the Flores decision that would make it legal to hold children with their parents — indefinitely.

Trump has not been helpful in providing guidance to Congress. He and Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched the zero-tolerance policy that led to the forced separations of parents and children in the first place. He then insisted he could do nothing about it and called on Congress to change an unspecified law. Then he signed an executive order undoing his own policy with an evident plan to incarcerate children with their parents—a strategy that itself is illegal because of the Flores decision. And over the weekend, Trump tweeted that Congress should abandon all efforts at immigration reform: "Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November."

Trump followed that up with a tweet insisting that the rule of law did not need to apply to border crossers.

"We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country," Trump tweeted. "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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