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S. 3036 (115th): Keep Families Together Act

The Keep Families Together Act, numbered S. 3036, is the Democratic legislative proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to end the current practice of separating children from parents detained for crossing the border illegally. The bill includes the following provision:

“An agency may not remove a child from a parent or legal guardian solely for the policy goal of deterring individuals from migrating to the United States or for the policy goal of promoting compliance with civil immigration laws.”

The bill includes exceptions if a state court, state or county child welfare agency, or the Chief Patrol Agent or Area Port Director determines separation is in the best interest for the safety of the child, such as in cases of human trafficking or abuse. It requires a written explanation for separation in such cases.

Additionally the bill would:

  • Require all agents and officers be given evidence-based training to make those decisions “with an emphasis on the best interests of the child, childhood trauma, attachment, and child development.”
  • Require public guidance, in English and Spanish, instructing parents on how to locate their child in the event of separation. It would also require that separated parents be given a monthly update on the activities, health, and immigration status of their child.
  • Require an annual report with details on each case of separation, as well as a Government Accountability Office study on the prosecution of asylum seekers from 2008 to 2018.

What supporters say

Sen. Feinstein issued a press release explaining that the bill was written with consultation from child welfare experts, and outlining support for her bill from legislative advocates and other Democratic senators.

“The United States must not be a country that traumatizes young children by separating them from their parents,” said Feinstein.

What opponents say

While no Republicans have been outspoken against Feinstein’s bill, they also have not signed on to it. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) issued a press release that he would be introducing his own bill, while in the House Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC11) introduced another bill which we covered here.

Odds of Passage

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that he and congressional Republicans want to end the policy of separating families at the border. However, he noted that any such legislative fix would have to be narrowly tailored, in order to pass with the required nine votes of Democratic support. The Trump Administration instead prefers a much broader package also tackling border security and “the wall.”

Last updated Jun 19, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 7, 2018.

Keep Families Together Act

This bill prohibits an agent or contractor of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, or the Department of Health and Human Services from removing a child who is under the age of 18 and has no permanent immigration status from his or her parent or legal guardian at or near the port of entry or within 100 miles of the U.S. border unless:

an authorized state court determines that it is in the child's best interests to be removed; a state or county child welfare official with expertise in child trauma and development determines that it is in the child's best interests to be removed because of abuse or neglect; or the Chief Patrol Agent or the Area Port Director authorizes separation based on a documented finding that the child is a trafficking victim or is at significant risk of becoming a victim, a strong likelihood exists that the adult is not the parent or legal guardian, or the child is in danger of abuse or neglect. An agency may not remove a child from a parent or legal guardian solely for the policy goals of deterring migration to the United States or of promoting immigration law compliance.

The bill sets forth presumptions: (1) in favor of family and sibling unity and parental rights, and (2) that detention is not in the best interests of families and children.

The Government Accountability Office shall conduct a study of the prosecution of asylum seekers.