WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats staked out their immigration policy priorities Thursday with a bill to improve conditions for asylum-seekers, clashing with the leading Republican proposal on an issue that promises to feature in the 2020 presidential election.
The bill to end family separations and set minimum health standards for detention facilities comes as members of Congress seek access to migrant holding centers and decry appalling conditions, especially for children.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats said their bill would make it easier for unaccompanied minors to stay in the U.S. with sponsors and give them access to lawyers, while the leading Senate GOP proposal would return them to their home countries. Schumer's legislation is supported by 36 Democrats in the chamber, including all seven senators running for president in 2020.
"It is not American to treat children like this," Schumer said, pointing to reports of inhumane and unsanitary conditions facilities in Florida and elsewhere that are housing Central American migrants, many of them fleeing gang violence.
Democrats are highlighting the human side of President Donald Trump's immigration policies with emotional hearings, legislation and proposals from candidates seeking the 2020 presidential nomination. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday rolled out a plan to "decriminalize" immigration violations, welcome more refugees and focus enforcement on security threats.
Other Democratic candidates have weighed in as well, with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker saying he would use executive authority to change detention practices, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar promising a comprehensive immigration plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing for legislation this year to address the migrant influx, and Schumer said Democrats' proposal could be part of those talks or the year-end appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security. The competing bills could complicate efforts to reach any accord, because it takes 60 votes to advance legislation in the Senate and the GOP holds just 53 seats.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham in May introduced Trump-backed asylum legislation that is the GOP's leading proposal. His bill would bar Central Americans from seeking asylum at the border. Instead, they would have to apply in Mexico or at consulates in their home countries.
His plan would add 500 immigration judges and increase detention time for undocumented families to a maximum 100 days from the current limit of 20 days, a boost Democrats oppose.
Graham's plan would allow the U.S. to return unaccompanied children from Central America to their home country after screening, another contrast with what Democrats seek.
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