Congress

House immigration plan would allow families to be detained together

The Republican House compromise bill on immigration would end the family separation issue at the border — but Democrats won't support it.

The bill mandates that the Department of Homeland Security hold any adult only charged with a misdemeanor who crossed the border with a child under age 18 with their child, at specific family detainment facilities.

It would apply to all past and future cases of family detention, so children already separated from their parents could be reunited. It would also approve funding for family detention centers.

"We have added family residential centers as an approved use of the $7 billion of border technology funding included in the bill," said a House Republican source familiar with the compromise bill drafting. "This will ensure DHS has access to funds to house more families."

The bill's official language, debated by Republicans pushing immigration reform and the conservative House Freedom Caucus for weeks, is expected to be released Tuesday night. McClatchy obtained draft bill text Tuesday afternoon.

The measure does not provide a limit on the amount of time children can be detained along with their parents, but federal "family residential standards," laid out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, would apply to facilities used to detain families, according to another House Republican aide involved in immigration talks.

The ICE standards include mandates on care for detainees, including mental health care, nutritional foods, clean bedding, linens, blankets and towels, translation services, allowing for correspondence with family members and legal counsel.

Officials also have to provide structured physical activities for children and one hour of instruction for eligible children in each of the core school subjects, Monday through Friday, by teachers who meet state licensing requirements.

The family separation issue gained widespread attention in the past week, as media outlets published photos of children held in fenced facilities and audio of them crying for their parents. The numbers have exploded due to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy announced in April, which said all immigrants crossing the border illegally would be charged with a crime.

The U.S. Border Patrol released video of a brief tour they gave reporters inside a detention facility in McAllen, Texas, where it holds families arrested at the southern U.S. border. The video shows adult and children housed in cages.

Since current law does not allow children to be held in detention facilities indefinitely, President Donald Trump's administration separates the children from their parents in order to detain the parents.

The administration then treats the children as though they were unaccompanied, even though many crossed the border with their parents or a guardian.

While some Republicans working on this legislation have said it's important to address this issue in comprehensive immigration bills, other Republicans say the only realistic chance of fixing it is in a separate bill.

"The only way to guarantee on an issue this complicated that we get a fix is for it to be a narrow solution, targeted to this particular problem," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on Tuesday.

McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, did indicate they supported how House Republicans were looking to fix the issue. Cornyn said they want to keep families together while still "expediting their ability" to go before an immigration judge.

He said they're looking at moving the families "to the head of the line" in immigration court proceedings, but they'd be held in a "humane, safe and secure family facility."

Democrats want the families to stay together without detaining them, and while all Senate Democrats have signed on to a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to codify that, many called on Trump to fix the issue immediately. A companion bill Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, introduced Tuesday has 189 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

"Mr. President, you alone can fix it," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, pulling a pen out of his jacket and offering to let Trump borrow it to sign a presidential order. "You can fix it yourself."

"There's no need for legislation, there's no need for anything else," Schumer added.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby
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