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Migrant Detention and Congressional Oversight

September 16, 2019

Immigration policy and enforcement continues to be a major area of conflict between congressional Democrats and the executive branch. Currently, Congress is considering many bills related to immigration, asylum, migrant detention, and family separation. This week, we will look at two bills that Democrats are advancing; next week, we will look at two bills that Republicans are advancing.

The HOMESTEAD Act of 2019 (H.R. 3868)

The full name of the HOMESTEAD Act is the Help Oversee, Manage, and Evaluate Safe Treatment and Ensure Access without Delay Act of 2019. The name comes from the Homestead shelter for migrant children.

The bill would make it easier for any member of Congress to visit a government-operated detention center that houses undocumented immigrants.It would also allow members of Congress to inspect the facilities without advance notice. (Currently, members of Congress must give 48 hours advance notice for an inspection, and the departments that oversee the detention centers are not required to allow entry to members of Congress. In April, three congresswomen from Florida attempted to visit one of the child detention centers in Homestead, Florida. The Department of Health and Human Services, the department that oversees the facility, denied them entrance.)2

Immigrant and migrant families along U.S.-Mexico border

Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act of 2019 (S. 2113 in the Senate; H.R. 3918 in the House of Representatives)

In addition to expressing concerns about oversight, some members of Congress have criticized the Trump administration for its detention policies.3 Researchers argue that the detention of children will have long-term mental and emotional effects.4 In fact, the administration’s own Department of Homeland Security issued a report that was deeply critical of conditions at four separate detention centers.5

This bill aims to address these conditions. The bill would:

  • Require that immigration officials make every effort to keep families together
  • Provide better medical care for children in detention centers
  • Set higher standards for detention centers in areas such as cleanliness, ventilation, and temperature
  • Provide staff for both supervision and attention to children’s welfare6

SEE: An Open Letter from Senate Democrats

Immigrants’ rights activists insist that this bill would protect children. A petition circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union states, “[W]e’ve uncovered tens of thousands of pages of evidence documenting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials physically, sexually, and verbally abusing children.”7

But the Trump administration argues that by detaining families and making illegal immigration more daunting and difficult, it will deter the practices of illegal immigration. “One of the things that will happen, when they realize the borders are closing—the wall is being built, we are building tremendous numbers of miles of wall right now in different locations—it all comes together like a beautiful puzzle,” said President Trump.8

For this reason, and to avoid having to release undocumented families into the United States while their court cases are considered, the Trump administration is considering a rule change that would allow for indefinite detention of migrant families.Twenty states are currently suing the administration to block the rule change.10

Thus, there is presently much action taking place in the area of immigration policy, but it is unclear what changes will come in the months ahead. Next week, we will examine two Republican proposals to address concerns over immigration.


Discussion Questions

  • When you think of immigration, what do you see as the biggest problems facing the country?
  • Do you think illegal immigration is a serious issue? Why or why not?
  • Do you think these two bills are addressing significant issues? Why or why not?
  • If you were advising your member of Congress about these two bills, what advice would you give them? How would you like them to vote?


Featured Image Credit: Handout/Reuters, via the Washington Post
[1] Congress.gov: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3868/text
[2] Miami Herald: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/immigration/article228933679.html
[3] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/29/trump-administration-bars-tours-of-migrant-detention-centers-democrats.html
[4] National Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/08/23/753757475/lengthy-detention-of-migrant-children-may-create-lasting-trauma-say-researchers
[5] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/06/politics/homeland-security-ice-facilities/index.html
[6] Congress.gov: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2113/text
[7] American Civil Liberties Union: https://action.aclu.org/petition/cbp-stop-abusing-children
[8] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/us/politics/flores-migrant-family-detention.html
[9] Washington Post: https://beta.washingtonpost.com/immigration/trump-administration-moves-to-terminate-court-agreement-hold-migrant-children-and-parents-longer/2019/08/21/c268bb44-c28b-11e9-9986-1fb3e4397be4_story.html
[10] The Hill: https://thehill.com/latino/458843-20-states-sue-trump-administration-over-flores-rule



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