This bill — the Secure and Protect Act of 2019 — would aim to protect minors who entered the country illegally while in custody as their immigration case plays out and establish refugee processing centers in Mexico & Central America where asylum claims could be processed to reduce the frequency of illegal entry into the U.S. It would also make reforms to deter fraudulent asylum claims, in addition to increasing resources for immigration courts to process cases more quickly. A breakdown of its various provisions can be found below.
Protection of Minors
This section would allow for the detention of migrant children apprehended with their parents or guardians in family units. The amount of time migrant children could spend in detention would be increased from the current 20 days (established by a lawsuit settlement known as Flores v. Reno) to 100 days. Removal proceedings for migrant children and families with children would be prioritized and a 100-day completion goal would be set for immigration courts to decide such cases.
The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) would have sole discretion to determine standards for detention related to migrant children, and states would be prohibited from requiring that immigrant family detention centers be licensed by states. Additionally, eligibility for Special Immigrants Juvenile status (SIJS) would be restricted to only those who cannot reunify with either parent.
Rules regarding unaccompanied children (UACs) would be revised to allow the expedited deportation of UACs within 48 hours of their apprehension regardless of the country they’re from (current law only allows expedited deportation for UACs from Canada or Mexico). UACs would be required to stay in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement until a final decision is made in their case.
Asylum Reform & Preventing Asylum Abuse
Applications for asylum made by residents of Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) would have to be made at U.S. ports of entry or at refugee processing centers to be established in those countries and in Mexico. Within 240 days of this bill’s enactment the State Dept. would establish refugee application and processing centers outside the U.S. in consultation with the Dept. of Homeland Security. One center would be established in Mexico and at least three would be established in Central America.
Applicants would be ineligible for asylum if they have been convicted of a felony; have been deported; are inadmissible on health, criminal, or security grounds; or are residents of a country that has a refugee application center or a country that borders such a country.
Asylum applicants who establish that they have a credible fear of persecution would be referred to an immigration judge. The definition of “credible fear” would be revised to require the applicant to show that it’s “more likely than not” that they would face persecution if they return to their home country (the current standard requires a “significant possibility” of being persecuted).
The Justice Dept. would be authorized to hire at least 500 additional immigration judges and a corresponding amount of support staff, as necessary, to speed the processing of immigration cases. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be authorized to increase the number of attorneys and support staff in a manner consistent with the workload staffing model to support the increased number of immigration judges.