Earlier today I wrote a piece on the homepage asking Congress to step up, to end family separation at the border. The Republicans aren’t going to agree to anything that restores “catch and release.” The Democrats won’t agree to anything that leverages the plight of children to other immigration agenda items. But I wonder, could Ted Cruz’s “emergency legislation,” introduced today, have a chance to succeed? Here are the key provisions:
Double the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.
Authorize new temporary shelters, with accommodations to keep families together.
Mandate that illegal immigrant families must be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.
Provide for expedited processing and review of asylum cases, so that—within 14 days—those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum, and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.
Cruz’s bill enjoys the considerable virtue of focus. By banning family separation, it deals with the immediate crisis. By increasing the number of judges, authorizing new shelters, and providing for expedited processing, it can increase comfort for families, reduce the length of their detention, and ease the backlog. There’s a modest fiscal cost, of course, but it’s a price worth paying to end a broken policy.
The primary critique I’m seeing online is aimed at the 14 day asylum processing provision. Constructing a solid asylum case often takes time, and I’d be concerned about that provision as well if it didn’t ultimately allow for generous extensions when good cause is shown. But that seems like a point that can and should be quickly negotiated with input from experienced asylum attorneys.
Yes, it punts on immigration reform, the wall, and other legislative fixes, but Cruz is wise to do so. Each additional substantive provision increases controversy and complexity. Let’s save the grand bargains for another day.
Right now, the public debate is dominated by finger-pointing. Members of Congress are calling on Trump to make immediate, unilateral changes. Trump is demanding that Congress act, but with a bill that meets his requirements. Yet he doesn’t have to be (and given the conflicting and often trollish messages coming from the White House, shouldn’t be) in charge of this process. One of the many beauties of our constitutional system is that the branch closest to the people — the legislature — can override the president. It’s time to send exactly that message. Cruz’s legislation is a solid start.