Graham Asylum Bill Passes Out of Committee
By Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | August 2019
On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to address the growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border. The Secure and Protect Act (S.1494) passed out of committee on a party-line vote of 12-10.
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) bill would establish refugee processing centers in Central America and Mexico, modify the Flores settlement agreement to permit the detention of families together for longer than 20 days, appoint 500 new immigration judges, and allow authorities to immediately return unaccompanied alien children (UACs) to their home countries.
Because of Democratic obstruction on the committee, Chairman Graham made a procedural change that allowed the committee to move forward on sending the bill to the Senate floor over the objection of Democratic senators. It is now up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) whether or not the Senate will vote on the bill when they return from the August recess.
The bill is not perfect, and is missing a number of key provisions. Nonetheless, on its own, it is a step in the right direction. Revising the Flores 20-day standard is key to rapidly adjudicating asylum claims and removing those individuals who do not meet the standard for asylum. Establishing overseas processing centers, and rejecting applications made at the border of nationals from those countries, would reduce the number of people making the treacherous journey to our southern border. Immediately returning unaccompanied minors from all countries, instead of only Canada and Mexico, prevents the government from housing UACs in shelters for long periods of time.
Committee member Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) addresses a salient point with this bill. He noted that “[the bill] should absolutely not be paired with any measures that would make the border crisis worse by extending legal status.” This is in response to reports that Chairman Graham spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about a deal that would trade his asylum bill for a “Dreamer” amnesty in a spending bill.
While the bill is a good effort towards curbing the border crisis, no part of this bill is worth trading for any kind of amnesty. It is alarming that reports indicate it could be wrapped in must-pass spending legislation. That in itself would seem to contradict the nature of the recent spending agreement, which stipulates that members could not include poison pills in appropriations unless both Republican and Democratic leadership and the President agreed to them.
As a stand-alone bill, the Secure and Protect Act is a good step towards further measures to tighten our enforcement efforts and reform our broken asylum process.
Pairing it with any amnesty amendments would completely weaken its efforts, exacerbate the humanitarian and security crisis at the border by encouraging further illegal immigration, and weaken the country’s faith in our immigration system.