Exclusive: Graham Warns Dems On Immigration “Flores Settlement Agreement Act Needs To Change”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham has a message for Democrats on resolving the border and immigration crisis, either there’s going to be “a fight or we’re going to fix the problem,” he told SaraACarter.com in an exclusive interview.

Graham, who is spearheading immigration legislation, warned that the border crisis cannot be resolved unless the laws regarding asylum claims, credible fear and family units are changed. He said the challenge will be to get Democrats and Republicans on the same page regarding laws currently in place that allow family units to enter the United States and get released to the interior after 20 days before they appear in immigration court. Those laws, he said, have been exploited by human trafficking organizations and the illegal migrants entering the United States.

“It’s almost judicial triage,” Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The loopholes have also led to massive migration flows into the U.S. with numbers in the 2019 Fiscal Year surpassing over 590,000 detained at the border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“If we don’t change our laws our problem at the border is not going to go away,” said Graham, who said he is willing to move forward with discussions to reach an agreement with Democrats.

If the Democrats don’t negotiate on these laws, then “we’ll then we’re going to have a fight or we’re going to fix the problems.” Graham said he’s willing to give more aid to Central America to address the economic crisis after “we stop the pull factors – the loopholes in our immigration laws.”

As for family separation of illegal migrants in detention centers Graham said he doesn’t want to see it happening anymore. Graham has introduced a bill that would reverse the current regulation on detention from the “20-day rule” to holding illegal migrant children with their families for 100 days. This week, Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement Acting Director Mark Morgan confirmed that ICE will be removing ‘millions of illegal’ migrants starting next week. It will be an interior enforcement measure for those families who have already received removal orders. There have been conflicting reports as to how many families actually report to the Immigration Courts for their hearings, according to reports.

“I don’t want to separate families – that’s what we’ll fix,” said Graham, who is working with Democrats to find a solution.

“You have to turn off the flow and turn on the aid,” said Graham, referencing the aid being sent to Central America. “We got to change our laws or this will never work. You got to increase the capabilities to keep the whole family together and you got to speed up the adjudication process – we need a bunch more judges.” Graham’s bill calls for an increase of 500 immigration judges across the country to deal with the backlogged courts.

“It’s almost judicial triage,” he said. “When it comes to border adjudications we should put family claims up front, hold the families together, adjudicate them together.”

Graham told SaraACarter.com there is one issue that will be non-negotiable:

“I think what would be non-negotiable is if they (Democrats) don’t change Flores Settlement Agreement Act,” Graham said. “I think the Democrats are willing to modify it, that we’re not going to release them into the interior anymore.”

The Flores Settlement Agreement Act requires the release of family units, that is illegal migrant adults traveling with minors, after 20 days. However, the 20 day time frame is not enough time for immigration proceedings to begin in the courts. On average it can take from 45 to 60 days for an illegal immigrant claiming asylum or credible fear to appear before a judge. Because it takes so long, family units who are released into the population rarely show up for their immigration court appearance. Illegal migrants know that their stay is temporary in a U.S. detention facility. Once the twenty days has passed the U.S. government either gives them a bus or plane ticket to where they will be residing in the country. 

Just to put this into perspective in 2013, Border Patrol apprehended only 14,855 family units at the U.S. Mexico border. In 2018, the number grew to over 107,212 family units, which is an increase of over 620 percent in just five years.

Graham stressed the dire situation can be fixed if Democrats are willing to come to the table to negotiate. He said the situation is so out of control that illegal migrants “are trying to get caught” by Border Patrol agents.

National Border Patrol Council spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley sector Chris Cabrera said his sector sometimes sees 2,000 people crossing in one day and almost all walk up to the agents to turn themselves in “knowing they won’t be returned home.”

“The wall doesn’t fix this problem, once they set foot on U.S. soil, claim asylum, they are entitled to a hearing, the hearing is years away, they get released and then very few show up to the hearing,” said Graham.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, Graham and senior advisor to President Trump Jared Kushner are working to broker bipartisan legislation on asylum laws. If a bipartisan agreement is reached it would be the first step in passing legislation to address the crisis. It will be a piecemeal approach to correcting the problem, congressional officials said.

But something needs to be done.

This year roughly 570,000 illegal immigrants have been detained by Border Patrol agents, along the U.S. Mexico border. Congressional infighting and failure to find a resolution has resulted in the growing number of people attempting to enter the country illegally. Most of the illegal migrants are from Central America but scores of illegal migrants from Africa, South Asia and other pockets around the globe are increasing, according to Department of Homeland Security numbers.

Brokering a deal for immigration reform will come after the passage of a $4.5 billion border spending bill next week, according to Congressional officials. There are several issues at play – first is the Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act, to resettle underaged migrants in the U.S.; the Flores Settlement Agreement, which requires the release of illegal alien adults traveling with a minor after 20 days and weak asylum laws that allow migrants to claim credible fear to not be returned to their home country.

Here’s What You Need To Know About The Current Immigration Laws
  1. TVPRA:  The Trafficking Victims Protections Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) essentially results in the swift U.S. resettlement of all illegal migrants under the age of 18. It does this by mandating that that upon arrival, unaccompanied alien minors (UAC) must be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and, as soon as practicable, released into the U.S. interior to as a sponsor (generally a parent or a relative, who themselves are often illegally present in the country). Once released, UACs are frequently allowed to stay. Over the past several years, Border Patrol has seen an increase in the number of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the U.S. For example, in 2010, Border Patrol apprehended 18,622 UACs. In 2018, Border Patrol apprehended 50,036 UACs—i.e. an increase of 169% in just 8 years.

2. The Flores Settlement Agreement: A 9th circuit ruling requires the release of family units (i.e. illegal alien adults traveling with a minor) after 20 days, even though it takes far longer to complete their immigration proceedings. As such, migrants know that their short stay in a U.S. detention facility is essentially just a waiting stop before they receive a bus ticket to their chosen U.S. city.

    • In 2013, Border Patrol apprehended 14,855 FMUA. In 2018, Border Patrol apprehended 107,212 FMUA—i.e. an increase of more than 620% in just 5 years.
  1. Weak Asylum Laws: Low standards for claiming asylum has allowed migrants with meritless claims to illegally cross the border, claim “credible fear”, and then be automatically released into lengthy proceedings that far exceed DHS’ ability to detain them.
    • Before 2013, approximately 1 out of every 100 arriving aliens claimed credible fear and sought asylum. Today, that number is 1 out of every 10.
    • In the last 8 years, these claims have spiked by a 1700%. Such asylum fraud and abuse has contributed to a court backlog, which is now over 600,000 cases.
    • Approximately 80% of individuals from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador passed their initial credible fear screening – but at the end of the day only 20% were granted asylum by a judge.
    • The overall screen-in rate for the 4/11/18 to 6/6/18 “caravan” was 93%, with 374 out of 401 claims receiving credible fear referrals.