Splitting up families at the border is only the beginning: President Trump wants migrant children to be deported and jailed faster than they are now if they cross the border illegally, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday, and is pushing for Congress to change immigration laws to make it so. The president has often spoken vaguely of "loopholes" in immigration law he'd like to fix, and according to the Journal, these are some of the "loopholes" he'd like fixed.
Advocates of a more lenient immigration policy argue that laws protecting immigrant children from immediate jailing or detention are not loopholes, but rather important human rights protections for minors who are often brought into the country by adults.
“These are not loopholes,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at a recent Senate hearing. “They are laws that Congress passed to address the documented injustices facing children in our immigration system.”
According to the Journal, Trump wants Congress to implement three specific changes to immigration law. One is repeal of something called the Flores Settlement, which places strict limits on how long unaccompanied immigrant children can be detained.
Trump also reportedly wants modifications made to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was signed by President Bush in 2008. That law gives all undocumented immigrant children from countries other than Canada and Mexico the right to have their cases heard by an immigration judge; Trump reportedly wants this changed, so that immigrant children from all countries can be immediately deported after authorities ensure they aren't human trafficking victims.
The third change Trump is reportedly pushing for would affect both child and adult immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. Under current law, asylum-seekers who demonstrate that they have a credible fear of returning to their home countries are allowed to stay in America while awaiting a court hearing, so long as authorities determine that they have a "significant possibility" of winning their cases. Trump wants to raise this bar, so that asylum-seekers must instead show that they have a "more probable than not" chance of triumphing in court in order to be granted temporary legal status.
Whether or not Trump will able to affect any of these changes is an open question. Repealing the Flores Settlement and changing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act would require an act of Congress, and for the most part, lawmakers have shown no appetite for implementing Trump's immigration policies since he took office. The president's attempts to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico have sputtered, in large part because the Republican-controlled Congress hasn't allocated the money required to do so.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in May that the administration would begin separating undocumented immigrant children from their families at the border, ostensibly as a means of deterring illegal immigration. Since then, the number of unaccompanied migrant children in government custody has jumped by 20 percent, the Independent reports, with HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe confirming to the newspaper that government shelters for immigrant are at 95 percent capacity.
In May, the New York Times and Politico both reported that Trump blew up at Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen during a cabinet meeting, berating her for what he perceived as a lack of progress in decreasing the number of immigrants coming to America. The conversation was so intense that Nielsen drafted a resignation letter afterwards but didn't submit it, according to the Times and Politico. DHS spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton told the Times that this report was "false;" Nielsen herself told Politico that she "didn't threaten to resign," though she didn't say whether or not she'd written a resignation letter.