Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is leading the charge to implement a pilot program on the U.S. southern border that will expedite the process of removing illegal alien families who do not qualify for asylum.
Sinema joined a bipartisan group of nine senators who sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday describing a program they call “Operation Safe Return” that they believe can help fix the national emergency that has resulted from the unprecedented flood of third-world migrants at the border.
“This pilot program would apply to families who aren’t claiming ‘credible fear,’ which of course is the first threshold in seeking asylum,” Sinema said to The Arizona Republic. “If someone says ‘I left my country because I can’t make a living,’ (or) ‘it’s hard to take care of my family’ — that’s what we call an economic migrant.”
Under Sinema’s proposed program, migrant families determined to be ineligible for asylum could be booted after 15 days by the Department of Homeland Security. This would help alleviate the strain on the system, as migrant detention facilities are severely overstrained.
Unlike some other Democrats, Sinema is focused on finding solutions rather than scoring partisan political points. She worked on the program alongside Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, after meeting at the White House with officials from the Trump administration.
The letter was also signed by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), James Lankford (R-OK), Doug Jones (D-AL), Michael Enzi (R-WY), John Barrasso (R-WY), and John Cornyn (R-TX). They are expected to pitch the program in person to Secretary McAleenan in the upcoming weeks.
“We have worked with your agencies to develop a streamlined process to rapidly, accurately, and fairly determine those family units that do not have a valid legal claim and safely return those individuals to their home countries,” the letter reads.
“The process would use existing authorities, but surge necessary resources to a limited, particular location on the southern border,” it adds.
Border Patrol agents would be tasked with conducting “detailed, fair and accurate interviews” within one to three days under the proposed Operation Safe Return. If families claimed fear upon returning to their home countries, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Officers would conduct a credible-fear interview within nine days. After they released their report, the Department of Justice and Homeland Security would make the final determination within six more days.
“Within approximately 15 days after being encountered, the Department of Homeland Security should remove family units whose negative credible fear determinations are affirmed by the immigration judge,” the letter reads.
Sinema felt there was a way to solve the problem without changing laws or challenging the Flores Settlement Agreement, a judicial ruling that protects youthful asylum seekers. She devised the pilot program as a result, hoping to solve the problem without making serious changes to existing law.
“I just felt those weren’t the right answers,” Sinema said. “We wanted to solve the problem. We wanted to protect the asylum process for valid applicants … and we want to respect the Flores decision.”
However, migrant advocates are complaining about Sinema’s proposal might stop the third-world invasion that has proven to be big business for smugglers, NGOs and other profiteers from this glorified human trafficking operation.
“We still have children who are missing in the system,” said Ruben Reyes, who is a board member with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “So we can’t take this letter outside of the context of what’s happened for the year and a half.”
Despite the naysaying from so-called civil liberties groups, Sinema is hopeful that the Trump administration will implement her pilot program based on overtures they have given to her.
“They’ve indicated a strong interest in this program for several reasons,” she said.
Sinema, who defeated Republican Martha McSally in the 2018 general election, has become a pleasant surprise in the U.S. Senate as she has largely rejected the pressures from her extremist Democratic colleagues and focused instead on solving the issues that matter to her constituents.
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