U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) today introduced legislation to end the use of detention centers for immigrant families waiting for asylum hearings.
The "No Internment Camps Act" would prohibit use of federal funds to operate or construct family detention facilities and would phase out family detention centers currently operating in the country.
The funds currently used for detention centers would re-establish the Family Case Management Program. The program, which closed in June, offered a less-restrictive alternative to detention centers. Asylum-seekers in the program worked with social workers to connect with legal representation, healthcare, housing, and schooling for children.
The legislation comes days after the Trump administration proposed regulations ending the time limit currently in place for keeping migrant children in detention. The White House wants to be able to hold families in detention camps indefinitely, going against the 1997 Flores settlement agreement. The Flores settlement prevents the government from detaining migrant children for more than 20 days.
Under President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy of prosecuting all illegal entries into the U.S., adults are held in detention while their children are sent to other family members or facilities. But that policy has gathered widespread outcry.
In August, Merkley introduced an amendment to a 2019 appropriations bill, prohibiting the use of federal funds to "construct or operate" family detention centers. Merkley's amendment was removed, but the law passed with a similar prohibition on using funds to construct detention centers, though it did not prohibit funding for operating expenses.
Merkley garnered national attention in early June when he was turned away from a visit to a child detention center in Brownsville, Texas. Not long after, President Trump called for Congress to authorize family detention centers.