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Democrats prefer political gain over ending family separation

Democrats are positioning themselves to vote down a bill that would permanently prevent the separation of illegal immigrant parents and children. Remember this the next time you see liberals compare President Donald Trump and his administration to Nazis on this issue.

Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ordering that families remain together while officials determine the outcome of their case. Illegal immigration activists — yes, you read that right — are likely to sue Trump over that. To understand what’s happening and how to fix it, review the history.

In 1997, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most liberal appellate court in America, imposed the Flores Settlement. It required the government to release minor children who came here illegally within 20 days of detaining them.

Here’s how a District Court judge in Texas summarized the Flores case in 2007: “The Settlement was the product of litigation in which unaccompanied minors argued that release to adults other than their parents was preferable to remaining in custody until their parents could come get them.”

Takeaway: Liberal activists were for separating children before they were against it.

For two decades, Flores applied only to unaccompanied children. In 2015, “a group of Central American migrants” filed a lawsuit arguing Flores required the release after 20 days of both accompanied children and their parents. The 9th Circuit ruled that the government couldn’t keep accompanied children in custody for more than 20 days. It found the Flores settlement didn’t apply to adults, so the government could detain parents while resolving their case.

So why does it take more than 20 days to resolve a case where someone crossed the border illegally? Normally, it doesn’t. Assuming illegal immigrant parents haven’t committed additional crimes, they often are charged, enter a guilty plea and are sentenced to time served within a day. ICE then sends the family unit home.

All that changes if a parent claims asylum. Asylum claims usually take two months or more to resolve if a person is in custody.

Then-President Barack Obama’s solution was simple: catch and release. Catch illegals crossing the border but release asylum seekers who came to the United States with children. Sure, there would be a future court date, but good luck finding them. This system turned children into get-out-of-jail-free cards, which created a horrible, perverse incentive to bring children to the border. They became a valuable commodity.

For instance, Department of Homeland Security officials interviewed a Honduran official who said criminals have started kidnapping children to pair “with unrelated adults, knowing adults who enter the United States with children won’t be detained,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in 2016. “Once in the U.S., these children are vulnerable to labor or sex trafficking.”

“[I]n the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit,” said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday.

Some parents have even turned their children over to smugglers for profit. Incentivizing human trafficking should be reason alone to end catch and release, which the Trump administration has done. That action triggered the separation of legitimate family units, thanks to the Flores settlement.

The backstory is complicated, but the solution isn’t. Congress should pass legislation requiring children to stay with their parents in most circumstances.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dean Heller and a majority of Republican senators introduced a narrowly focused bill to do just that.

Before the legislation was even filed, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected it. This matters, because Senate Republicans need nine Democrat votes to break a filibuster.

The Hill reported that “Democrats want to keep the pressure on Trump instead of having Congress assume responsibility for the growing crisis.”


For Democrats, the only thing worse than separating children from their parents at the border is solving the problem so they can’t use it as a political club in November.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 9 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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