Democratic Arizona Senator Calls on Congress to ‘Secure the Border’

A group of Central American migrants surrenders to U.S. Border Patrol Agents south of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, March 6, 2019. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) on Wednesday urged her colleagues to come to a bipartisan compromise to reform the immigration laws that have allowed a record number of migrants to cross the southern border in recent months.

Sinema joined the Department of Homeland Security and the White House in calling attention to the failure of U.S. immigration law to address the record number of Central American asylum-seekers streaming across the border. Under current law, those migrants are legally entitled to remain in the U.S. while their cases are being adjudicated.

The problem is further exacerbated by the composition of the migrants; many of them are women and children who cannot be detained in facilities that were designed to house single men. The lack of adequate resources forced authorities to release 18,500 immigrants from federal detention into Arizona between December 21 and March 20.

“The sheer volume of family units crossing the border has overwhelmed ICE’s limited transportation resources; combined with a requirement to detain these individuals for no more than 20 days, the agency has no option but to expeditiously arrange for their release,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement released last month.

President Trump, after ousting Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen earlier this month, has reportedly considered a number of legally risky executive actions to stem the flow of migrants in response to congressional inaction.

Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday announced one such measure, which will prohibit asylum seekers who have established a “credible fear” of returning to their home country from being released into the U.S. on bond. Under the new policy, which reverses a standing Department of Justice rule, asylum-seekers will be detained until their cases are adjudicated.

The rule change will not, however, apply to children, whom the government is required to release after no more than 20 days of detention under the Flores consent decree. The Trump administration has urged Congress to pass legislation that would overturn the decree and allow DHS to detain family units with children until their cases are adjudicated.

A record 53,077 family units and 8,975 unaccompanied children were detained at the border in March.

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