As IJR has extensively reported, there is a crisis at the border. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have arrived at the border over the past several months, completely overwhelming the detention facilities operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Given the current laws, Border Patrol agents have been forced to release migrant families into the U.S. on their own recognizance to come back for a court date that might be years away.
Central American smugglers have guided 1 percent of the populations of both Honduras and Guatemala to the U.S., a service they advertise on the radio. En route to the U.S., children are used as a one-way ticket across the border, and families risk their lives to try to make a better life.
Some Republicans think a border wall can keep this crisis at bay. Some Democrats think boosting foreign aid could do the trick. Graham knows these one-dimensional options aren’t going to cut it.
In a press conference introducing his legislation Wednesday, Graham said:
“[Migrants are] going to keep coming to the United States because life is better here than it is there. No amount of money is going to stop people from coming. No matter how high the wall will be built, no matter how many drones you have, no matter how many agents you put at the border, they’ll keep coming because they want to get caught.”
Graham’s solution is to make it so that migrants know that if caught, they’re not going to be released without a judge’s approval. Here are six key details of Graham’s plan that could actually address the problem at the border.
1. No more one-dimensional fixes.
Many Republicans, especially President Donald Trump, are not interested in border policy unless it includes a wall, but as Graham noted, a wall is not enough. Most migrants want Border Patrol to catch them. They’re not trying to sneak through.
Many Democrats are only interested in increasing aid to Central America, but as Graham explained, these countries are not going to match the standard of living in the U.S. Migrants will still come for a better life.
Graham acknowledged that migrants are coming to the U.S. because they know they can stay. A wall and aid could slow the stream, but it’s not going to cut it off.
2. Asylum claims must be made outside the U.S.
One reason the U.S. immigration system is overwhelmed is that migrants can enter the country to make their asylum claim. Once they’re in, they’re in. It doesn’t matter that 65 percent of asylum claims are rejected and 87 percent of migrants never show up for their immigration hearing.
This draws families to the U.S. because they know they will not be turned around once they are in. Graham’s new proposal would require Central American migrants to apply for asylum from their home countries or Mexico. This would not only help reduce the congestion at the border, but it would prevent migrant families from making the treacherous journey north if they don’t have a valid claim.
3. New arrivals will be sent home.
One reason the current crisis at the border ballooned so quickly was that the demographics of migrants changed. Roughly two decades ago, it was mostly single males from Mexico arriving at the border. Their claims were processed, and they were turned around if they were not granted status — a situation that could take less than 24 hours.
Today, it is mostly family units from Central America. If a child arrives at the border from somewhere other than Mexico or Canada, current U.S. law prevents them from being returned to their home country. Graham’s legislation would close that loophole and allow agencies to return minors to their home country if they don’t have a valid claim.
4. Families will be kept together for longer periods of time.
Following the Flores Settlement Agreement of 1997, children couldn’t be detained for more than 20 days. Today, that means that families must either be separated or parents and children can be detained together for a maximum of 20 days. With a backlogged legal system, it’s nearly impossible to process families in 20 days, so families are released.
Extending the detention period for minors would ensure that children can be detained with their parents throughout the legal process instead of housing the children in a separate facility while the parents are detained in federal jails awaiting their trial — a process that peaked under the “zero tolerance” policy of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that forbade the release of families.
Graham’s bill would allow families to be detained together for 100 days, giving enough time for their cases to be heard without keeping children from their parents.
5. More judges.
With much of the border crisis hanging on the overwhelmed court system, Graham’s legislation would fund 500 additional immigration judges to expedite the legal process and clear the backlog of cases.
While this is the entirety of Graham’s plan, it likely won’t stay this way. The senator has explained that he is “willing to sit down with Democrats” and incorporate their solutions. It’s hard to imagine this plan moves forward without Democrats insisting on more aid to Central America or permanent protections for children brought to the United States by their families, also called “Dreamers.”
On the Republican side, Trump used his national emergency powers to get construction rolling on the border wall, but he hasn’t secured enough funding for a wall the length of the border.
Graham’s plan may be an innovative way to approach the border crisis, but whether he can get enough support across the aisle could be an uphill battle.