A bipartisan group of lawmakers are seeking to prevent the Trump administration from arresting undocumented immigrants who come forward to take care of undocumented immigrant children who are in the country alone, after CNN reported such arrests were happening.
A bill set to be introduced Tuesday comes as both the number of immigrant children in government custody and the length of time those children are being detained are skyrocketing. The Trump administration’s own policies are at least partly responsible for the increase in both numbers and hundreds of children are being sent to a temporary tent facility in Texas set up to accommodate them.
The bill would bar the government from using a sponsor’s undocumented status as a reason to deny releasing a child to them, and it would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from using information provided by a potential child sponsor to arrest or deport an undocumented immigrant.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said CNN’s reporting had prompted her to draft the legislation, which will be introduced with at least a dozen other Democrats and GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida.
CNN confirmed last month that dozens of immigrants who came forward to sponsor children out of custody had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement from July to September, 70% of whom were arrested only on immigration violations.
Wasserman Schultz said she visited a facility in Florida for especially young immigrant children who had come to the US by themselves earlier this year, and she was told that adults offering to care for the children were not asked about their immigration status.
“CNN’s reporting has shown that was untrue,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement, calling the arrests “beyond heartless.”
The Department of Health and Human Services cares for undocumented immigrant children who come to the US alone or are separated from adults at the border until they can be placed with adults in the US, often family members or friends, where they can then pursue any potential legal right to stay in the US. An ICE official told Congress last month that around 80% of those homes include adults who are undocumented.
While immigration bills have gone nowhere in Congress, the legislation reflects the rising stakes for some action regarding the treatment of immigrant children. The Trump administration is pushing to nullify a court settlement that set minimum standards for the care of immigrant children in custody, whether or not they’re with their parents when they arrive. Many Republicans in Congress have backed legislation that would do so.
On Sunday, an HHS official confirmed that teenagers are being transferred from unaccompanied immigrant child shelters all over the country to a temporary tent facility in Tornillo, Texas, that is being expanded to house up to 3,800 children by the end of the year. It currently has a capacity of 2,400, according to spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.