Report: Administration will let immigrant parents choose family detention or separation

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The Trump administration is working on a proposal that would allow immigrant parents to choose between being separated from their children or being put in detention as a family, according to a news report by McClatchy.

The choice would apply to families who cross the border between ports of entry and then submit a claim for asylum.


Parents would be given the choice to stay in a tent city with their families while their asylum cases were worked out or to temporarily give up custody of their children, according to two unnamed sources who told McClatchy they’ve discussed the proposal with administration officials.

Under President Trump’s zero tolerance policy, anyone caught crossing the border illegally is remanded for criminal prosecution, regardless of whether they request asylum. The policy led to more than 2,000 children being separated from their families since April.

In response to the uproar over the separations, Trump signed an executive order last week mandating family detention rather than separation. But under current law — what’s known as the Flores settlement agreement — minors can’t be detained for more than 20 days.

Under the Flores agreement, parents can choose to keep custody of their children while in detention. 

The administration’s proposal that’s in the works is similar to provisions in two Republican immigration bills in the House — one that failed last week and another that’s expected to receive a vote this week.

Critics of swapping separations for family detention say the asylum process is lengthy, and in some cases could lead to indefinite detention.

“When somebody’s not detained, it can last many years,” said Lindsay Nash, an expert on immigration law and a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “When somebody is detained it depends a lot on the court.”

Supporters of the administration’s tough approach to immigration say such a plan could make things easier for asylum seekers.

Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for reduced immigration, told McClatchy that federal authorities will have more “flexibility” with immigrants who “cooperate.”

“Things might go a bit easier for you. We cannot detain you together unless it’s something you’re okay with. And you’re going to have to decide whether this is something that is important to you,” said Vaughn.

Trump is unlikely to terminate the zero tolerance policy on illegal border crossings. On Thursday, a day after he signed the executive order, he told his Cabinet, “If you took zero tolerance away, everybody would come, right now.”

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