“I’ll be introducing a package, and hopefully with Democratic support, that will change our asylum laws,” Graham, R-S.C., told “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a large majority of people who apply for asylum are released, but never return for their hearing. He noted the Flores settlement in 1997 (Flores v. Reno) that set the standard for the treatment of minors in detention centers and how long a minor may be held. Today, a minor must be provided “food and drinking water, medical assistance in emergencies, toilets and sinks, adequate temperature control and ventilation, adequate supervision to protect minors from others and separation from unrelated adults whenever possible,” according to a report from the Congressional Research Service from 2017. Also, a minor may only be detained for a maximum of 20 days.
“It’s impossible to do a hearing in 20 days,” Graham said, adding that he wants to modify the decision and asylum laws. “So we’re going to try to change the time you can hold an unaccompanied minor or a minor child beyond 20 days because if you come up with a family and you have minor kids in the family, we release the whole family in 20 days because you don’t want to separate families.”
Previously, the Trump administration came under fire for separating families at the southern border under its “zero tolerance” immigration policy. A report issued in January from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that “thousands” more children may have been separated from their families last year – adding to the 2,737 that the Department of Health and Human Services already identified in its care at the time. The OIG report noted that the total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities was “unknown.”
Meanwhile, the number of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants trying to enter the U.S. at the southern border with Mexico reached a 12-year high in March of more than 92,000, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The majority of those attempting to enter the country illegally were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the agency said.
“The Border Patrol is facing an unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis,” U.S. Border Patrol chief Brian Hastings said during a press call last Tuesday. “We're seeing record numbers of apprehensions, large groups and high numbers in custody. And we've arrived at the breaking point.”
Graham said he is working on his immigration package despite Congress being in a two-week recess and is in talks with the White House in order to make the final legislation must a bill the president will sign.
“Once we get agreement between myself and the White House and Sen. [Ron] Johnson [R-Wis.], the Homeland Security chairman who has some jurisdiction here, we’ll put together a package, we’ll sit down with our Democratic colleagues and we’ll try to figure out a deal that will stop this madness,” Graham said. “We need troops at the border, we need a wall, but there is no way you’re going to stop the flow from Central America until you change our laws. These laws are insane.”