Assuming lawmakers are interested in looking for one, Congress has a bipartisan immigration fix right under its noses. It’s what the Obama administration tried, but failed, to do.
As more Central American caravans arrive with children at the U.S. border, Congress must address the “pull factors” that entice migrants to expose themselves, and especially minors, to the predations of criminal enterprises along the way.
One of the more perverse magnets is the Flores v. Reno consent decree issued by a federal court in California.
In 2015, District Judge Dolly Gee ruled that the 1997 settlement agreement applied to minors who arrived in the company of parents. Ostensibly aimed to protect minors, Gee’s order left the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unable to keep any family that arrives at the border without a legal status together and in its custody for more than 20 days.
“Tragically, adults have learned to exploit this. They know they can avoid being detained and can secure a quick release into the U.S. interior by taking one or more children on what is, at best, a barren trek without basic sanitation or medical care,” says Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The sobering reality is that border agents report parents giving young girls birth control as a matter of course before the trip north because predators sexually assault one in three females on this journey,” Collins wrote in an op-ed this week.
Seeing the obvious problem, the Obama administration sought to carve out an exception for minors who had arrived in the U.S. with their parents. The administration wanted to detain some migrants for as long as it took to process their cases.
Collins noted that Obama’s legal team argued that the carve-out was “essential to respond to the current and future surges of persons (including families) seeking to enter without lawful status.”
Judge Gee said no.
Belatedly, Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken up the cause. As GOP Sens. Charles Grassley (Iowa), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) declared: “One simple step could have prevented the family separations we now decry: repealing the Flores consent decree as it relates to families.”
Senate Republicans last fall introduced S. 3478, the “FAMILIES Act,” which Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, “overrides the court decision that has produced the current lose-lose situation and provides the resources to expeditiously adjudicate asylum claims.”
Collins said such legislation “would take away the reward for adults who use children as subway tokens to bypass safeguards in the system.”
Even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the FAMILIES Act languished in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and eventually died with the conclusion of the last congressional session.
Democrats genuinely moved by the plight of migrants have an opportunity here to follow their former president and do the right thing — legally and morally. Ditto for Republicans who profess to support President Trump’s immigration agenda. Can any responsible public servant reasonably object to sending a clear message that hauling minors to the border will no longer ensure a free pass into America?
Doing nothing guarantees that a bad situation will only get worse.