Four Republican proposals, two Democratic proposals

In May, the Trump Administration began a new zero-tolerance policy that is separating families at the border when they attempt to illegally immigrate to the United States. Six proposals are now before Congress to end this practice.

The proposals take aim at ending the Administration’s actions from very different angles. That reflects the complex legal situation playing out. Although the Trump Administration has not ordered the separation of children from their families, the separation is a known, inevitable consequence of existing law that prohibits children from being detained by the Department of Homeland Security in federal prison — in this case, when their parents are detained for prosecution under the zero-tolerance policy.

Here’s a quick summary of each proposal:

  • The simplest proposal is the Keep Families Together Act [S. 3036], which would prohibit the separation of children from their families at the border. It doesn’t specify what to do instead — that would be left up to the Administration — but some form of Catch and Release might be the only legal option available. The bill would also require information be given to parents on how to locate, and monthly updates about, their children. This is Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposal, and all Senate Democrats have signed on as cosponsors. For more, see our extended summary of the Keep Families Together Act.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz’s Protect Kids and Parents Act goes further. The bill would require that families be detained together. It would also speed up the judicial process by doubling the number of immigration judges available to hear cases and limit the duration of asylum review cases, and it would require that written guidance be given to asylum applications on how to locate separated children. For more, see our extended summary of the Protect Kids and Parents Act.
  • The Equal Protection of Unaccompanied Minors Act, proposed by
    Rep. Mark Meadows, is more complex. It would prevent the separation of families by keeping them detained together. It would also limit who could seek asylum and make other changes to immigration law. The bill has yet to be formally introduced in Congress, but draft text is available. For more, see our extended summary of the Equal Protection of Unaccompanied Minors Act.
  • Late Tuesday a comprehensive immigration reform bill that had long been in the works to codify a form of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which the Trump Administration ended last year, was announced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, would provide $25 billion for a border wall, make other reforms, and contains the same provisions for keeping families together as in the Equal Protection of Unaccompanied Minors Act by Rep. Meadows. The bill has not been formally introduced but draft text is available. For more information, see Goodlatte’s press release.
  • The HELP Separated Children Act [H.R. 5950S. 2937], which was introduced nearly a month ago by Democrats, took a middle-of-the-road approach. While it wouldn’t have ended the practice of separating families, the legislation would allow children to visit parents who are detained and allow parents one last goodbye to their children prior to being taken into custody. For more, see our extended summary on the HELP Separated Children Act.
  • The Trump Administration could also end the practice immediately, at least temporarily, by freezing its zero-tolerance policy, and Sen. Orin Hatch has asked the President to do just that.

The Trump Administration has wavered on whether separating families is meant as a deterrent, but it’s clear it is being used as leverage for funding a border wall, ending the Catch and Release process, and turning to merit-based immigration. The Administration has said it will not support a narrow fix for keeping families together and will only support comprehensive reform with those elements —such as the Goodlatte bill.

If you’d like to let your representative and senators know what you think about the proposals, use or look up your legislators on GovTrack.