I call my senators a lot. I have their number in my phone as “Senate” like they’re any old friend. You know why? Because calling your representatives and voicing your concern is the second greatest power you have as a citizen. Voting is the first and most important, and you should be voting in every damn election if you’re over 18.
A couple of weeks ago, I called both Iowa senators, Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, regarding the crisis of detaining children at the border. I recently received a response from Senator Ernst. Don’t worry, I typically get a response from Senator Grassley by carrier pigeon, so I’ll probably have a response in another month or so. He usually tells me I’m wrong and that he disagrees with my stance, but Senator Ernst is generally much more open and informative with her responses. The following are her responses to me and my subsequent response to her.
Dear Ms. Vancamp,
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about our nation’s immigration policies, particularly those affecting children and families. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on policy matters such as this.
Recently, President Trump issued a memorandum directing the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a proposal that increases the efficiency of our asylum system in order to better address the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Specifically, the memorandum calls for fees for asylum applications, certain work permit restrictions, and a 180-day limit for adjudicating asylum claims. Officials have 90 days to draft regulations that implement these proposals. Some have raised concerns that these provisions are too restrictive and will lead to an increase in family separations due to the large proportion of families who seek relief through the asylum process.
Pursuant to current law, family separations typically occur in cases in which an adult claims asylum after illegally crossing the border. In these cases, adults are usually detained for longer periods than the government is legally allowed to hold children, resulting in the separation of children from adults that the government decides to hold as their pending asylum claim is adjudicated. Within twenty days, separated children have generally been placed with a vetted sponsor (usually another family member) to await reunification with their parent after their immigration case has been adjudicated.
There is a humanitarian crisis at our southern border that demands action and attention. Iowans have been clear on their desire for a strong, secure border and efforts to curb human trafficking and the flow of drugs into our state. At the same time, I also believe that we can, and should, treat children and families in our immigration system with compassion, while still enforcing our immigration laws.
As such, last year, I was pleased to see President Trump sign an executive order that sought to keep families together by prioritizing the adjudication of cases involving detained families and encouraging additional facilities be made available to house families together. Additionally, I cosponsored two bills – S. 3093, the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act, and S. 3091, the Protect Kids and Parents Act – which would prevent family separations. Both of these bills would require families be kept together during their immigration proceedings except in certain cases involving aggravated criminal conduct or in which there is a clear threat of harm to the child. Additionally, both bills prioritize the resolution of cases involving families and increase the number of immigration judges in order to expedite court proceedings.
Please know that I will continue to keep your views on this issue in mind moving forward. Feel free to contact my office with any further information, as I always appreciate hearing from Iowans.
Joni K. Ernst
United States Senator