Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced the Protecting Immigrant Families and Improving Immigration Procedures Act (S. 1733), a bill that addresses several pressing problems in U.S. immigration policy. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
What the bill does:
- More judges: Helps clear the backlog of immigration court cases by providing additional judges and staffing. Funding in the bill would allow for the hiring of 75 judge teams – each of which includes one judge and two or three staff. This is the maximum number of judge teams the administration says it can put in place in a year.
- Family separation: Incorporates the Keep Families Together Act, a bill that prohibits separation of families at the border unless good cause is determined by a state official or child welfare expert.
- Flores Agreement: Prevents the administration from overruling the Flores Settlement Agreement. This agreement prevents prolonged detention of children and prevents children from being detained in inhumane conditions by requiring basic levels of food, water and health care.
- Lawyers for toddlers: Protects unaccompanied young children and toddlers by providing them with counsel in their immigration hearings so they’re not forced to represent themselves in court proceedings.
- Judicial flexibility: Includes language that will allow judges to prioritize cases most likely to require a courtroom resolution. Judges will be able to focus efforts on cases where visas aren’t available and deportation hearings are necessary.
Senator Feinstein released the following statement:
“Families and children continue to flee from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to seek asylum at our southern border. While at the same time trying to address the underlying causes of this migration, we must also treat these families humanely when they arrive. That’s the focused goal of this bill.
More resources: “In order to help clear the backlog of more than 800,000 immigration cases, the bill provides funds to increase the number of immigration judge teams by 75. Additional funds will also be provided so unaccompanied children and toddlers aren’t forced to represent themselves in complex legal proceedings.
Family separations: “The most urgent problem addressed by this bill is that of family separations, which would be prohibited. We know that family separations continue today, and we now know thousands more families may have been separated than previously revealed. This remains an urgent problem that must be addressed.
Flores Agreement: “The bill ensures that families with children aren’t forced into indefinite detention. This is achieved by rejecting regulations proposed by the Trump administration that would overturn the Flores Settlement Agreement. This agreement, reached following a 1997 court case, requires the expedited release of children to parents, adult relatives or licensed programs. It also requires that facilities provide families with essentials like food, water and emergency medical care.
“Taken as whole, this bill is designed to help protect vulnerable immigrant children while providing the resources necessary for the immigration system to work more efficiently. By design it’s not a comprehensive bill, but rather one to address a time-sensitive matter at our southern border.”