Graham unveils bill to overhaul asylum laws

Graham unveils bill to overhaul asylum laws
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit MORE (R-S.C.) rolled out legislation on Wednesday to overhaul the country’s asylum laws, including increasing the amount of time an undocumented minor can be detained. 

Graham, speaking at a press conference, said the country’s current laws are “incentivizing a horrible journey … through hell." 

“People are trying to get caught," he told reporters. "They will keep coming because they want to get caught." 

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Graham’s legislation would overhaul the U.S. asylum system, including increasing the number of days a family can be held together from 20 to 100. Democrats are likely to balk at changes to the Flores settlement, which limits the amount of time a minor can be held in custody to 20 days. 

“This is a nightmare for smugglers,” Graham said, referring to his legislation, adding that “what I’m trying to do is cut off the faucet.”

In addition to changing the Flores settlement, Graham’s legislation would require asylum claims to be filed in Mexico or a home country, instead of in the United States. 

It would also provide funding for 500 new immigration judges and allow for unaccompanied minors from Central America to be set back to their home countries, similar to unaccompanied minors from Canada or Mexico. 

Graham's legislation comes after White House adviser and son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerJudge delivers second blow to Trump over financial records Tillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Trump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul MORE, policy adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerTrump expected to tap Cuccinelli for new immigration post Acting DHS secretary threatened to quit after clashing with Miller: report The Memo: Trump's new immigration plan finds few friends MORE and Vice President Pence briefed GOP senators Tuesday on the White House's forthcoming plan to overhaul legal immigration.

Graham said that his legislation lines up with the asylum provisions in Trump's plan, but the White House proposal deals more broadly with legal immigration and shifting who gets green cards. 

Graham urged for "Tuesday Trump" to show up to negotiate immigration legislation, referring to a White House meeting where the president gathered with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and told them to send him a bill and he would sign it. 

"If we can find a reasonable solution … and the president says no to more immigration reforms, then I think he will own this problem," Graham said. 

"Here's the task for you, Mr. President: You had a meeting with Republicans and Democrats. You said 'send me a bill and I will sign it.' We sent him a bill, and he didn't sign it. So I am urging the president to lead us to a solution," Graham added. 

But any legislation faces an uphill, if not impossible, battle on Capitol Hill. Immigration has emerged as a fierce political issue during the Trump administration, with bases in both parties drawing a hard line on what sort of deal they would accept. 

The Senate has nixed several immigration proposals during the Trump era. Two days after Trump urged lawmakers to bring him a plan, he also rejected a Senate proposal from a bipartisan group that included Graham. 

Acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Judge rules banks can give Trump records to House | Mnuchin pegs debt ceiling deadline as 'late summer' | Democrats see momentum in Trump tax return fight | House rebukes Trump changes to consumer agency House rebukes Mulvaney's efforts to rein in consumer bureau The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE and acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kevin McAleenan have met with Senate Democrats about potential changes on asylum, though Democrats, including Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran MORE (Ill.), have appeared skeptical about the chances of immigration legislation. 

Graham called out both parties during his press conference, arguing that Congress has failed to address the U.S.-Mexico border. 

"If you think this is a Trump-created problem, you really just hate Trump," Graham said. "And as a Republican, if you think we can just do this by building a wall, you're wrong." 

He added that Democrats should ignore their "dislike and displeasure" with Trump and try to reach a deal. 

Graham stressed that while his initial proposal was focused on asylum, he was willing to broaden it, including finding a solution on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in order to get 60 votes. Graham said he would hold a hearing and a markup of his legislation during the Senate's next work period, which runs through June. 

"I'm willing to put other immigration ideas on the table to marry up with this," Graham said.