Democrats boycotted a Senate committee meeting Thursday in order to sink a bill designed to fix the surge of migrants at the border.
Under the Judiciary Committee’s rules, at least two Democrats needed to be present for senators to debate and pass the bill. But only one — Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s ranking Democrat — showed up, in order to complain about the process.
Chairman Lindsey Graham, who’s been trying to pass the bill for a month, said he’ll move next week to change the rules so that the committee can act without being stymied by another boycott.
“Somebody’s going to lead around here,” the South Carolina Republican said. “It will be this committee.”
Across the Capitol, GOP frustration also flared in the House Judiciary Committee, where Democrats held a hearing to blast the Border Patrol over the migration crisis — leading the panel’s top Republican to complain that they were all talk and no action.
“Hearings don’t solve problems, bills do,” said Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia Republican.
Democrats did in fact move several bills through the House this week aimed at improving the conditions and care standards for migrants when they reach the U.S.
But they stumbled Thursday, delaying plans to vote on a bill that would have repealed a number of the Trump administration’s executive actions that tried to limit the migrant surge.
And none of the bills Democrats were offering gets at the reasons that record numbers of migrant families who are rushing from Central America to the U.S., overwhelming the government’s ability to house and care for them.
Mr. Graham’s Senate bill, though, would attempt to change the incentives.
It would require persons from Central America who want to claim asylum in the U.S. to apply from refugee processing centers in the region, and would reject applications from those who jump the U.S. border.
Only about 10% of Central Americans’ asylum claims are legitimate, but bogus claimants have flooded the system in recent years, knowing that there’s such a large backlog that they’ll be able to get into the U.S. and get work permits, giving them years to root into communities.
Mr. Graham’s legislation would also alter the 1990s-era Flores Settlement, which, thanks to a 2015 update, forces Homeland Security to release the families from custody within 20 days. Authorities say the average case for those in detention takes about 50 days to process, meaning it can’t be completed in the 20-day window. And once they are released, they go on a different docket with court dates years in the future.
That too, border experts say, is an incentive for adults to come and to bring children with them — sometimes their real families, sometimes fake ones.
Democrats said Mr. Graham’s bill went too far.
“This bill is focused almost exclusively on repealing protections for children and effectively eliminating asylum for Central Americans. We’re not going to do that,” Ms. Feinstein said.
She also defended the Flores Settlement, saying it’s the key to setting standards of care for immigrant children in government custody.
She complained Mr. Graham hadn’t worked hard enough to make his bill bipartisan, and suggested he form another group of senators to work out a broad solution — similar to the “gang” of senators that wrote major legalization bills in 2007 and 2013. Neither of those bills ended up becoming law.
Mr. Graham said he’s willing to work with anyone, and has asked Democrats for help, but has found no takers. He said they’ve resisted changes to the asylum process and the Flores Settlement that he says are at the heart of the problem.
He said he’d be willing to include U.S. aid for Central America in his bill — a major demand of Democrats — but said he’s also willing to pass a GOP-only bill if no Democrats are willing to deal.
“If it’s a partisan vote, it’s a partisan vote,” he said.
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