Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake have announced plans to introduce a bill in an attempt to deal with the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the border.
Generally, the bill would make it easier to turn around the children and send them home, but the legislation also includes a provision to increase the number of refugee visas for citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
According to an explainer from McCain's office, the idea is to expedite the kids' removal, but also expand the visa program to encourage them to file for refugee status in their home country, instead of doing so upon arrival to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The New York Times recently explained why these children aren't immediately put on planes and sent back to their home countries -- a bill signed into law by President George W. Bush that:
" . . . required that they be given an opportunity to appear at an immigration hearing and consult with an advocate, and it recommended that they have access to counsel. It also required that they be turned over to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the agency was directed to place the minor 'in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child' and to explore reuniting those children with family members."
The bill gave extra protections to migrant children not from Canada or Mexico, and McCain and Flake want to remove those protections, according to their statement.
McCain and Flake cite statistics that just 890 of these 55,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America this year have been repatriated.
The senators' explanation of their legislation only provides a summary of the bill, not the actual proposed changes in law. Here's what else they claim the bill would do:
- Allow for expedited removal of all undocumented immigrants that are stopped at the border attempting to enter the United States illegally, allowing law enforcement to return them to their home countries within a matter of hours or days as opposed to the months or years removal currently takes in most cases.
- Require mandatory detention or the mandatory use of "alternatives to detention" like ankle monitors to ensure individuals waiting for their court dates actually appear to court.
- Increase the number of immigration judges to hear cases and create a separate immigration docket to hear the cases of juveniles.
- Increase the number of refugee visas by 5,000 for each of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
- Condition foreign aid on countries' efforts to secure their borders and deter smuggling of children to the United States.
Earlier this week, the Obama Administration asked for $3.7 billion in spending to address the crisis, mostly to expand current programs to handle the influx.
It includes $1.8 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for the placement of the children once they're processed by border authorities and waiting for court proceedings. Another $60-plus million is for various legal costs at the Department of Justice, $1.1 billion for various aspects of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and nearly $400 million for Customs and Border Protection to care for the children before they're transferred to Health and Human Services.
The McCain and Flake plan certainly seems like a response to Obama's.
"The federal government will only stem the flow of unaccompanied minors to the United States when their parents see us sending them right back," Flake said in a statement. "This legislation gives the administration the flexibility it has requested so it can begin to do just that."
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Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant-rights groups are suing in a bid to get more legal representation for these minors. They're representing several of these migrant children, most of whom are escaping blatant gang violence, and face deportation without an attorney, according to their lawsuit.
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