TUCSON — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is pushing for the implementation of a pilot program along the U.S.-Mexico border that aims to more quickly screen and remove migrant families without valid legal claims for asylum in the United States.
Sinema, D-Ariz., joined a bipartisan group with eight other senators who sent a letter Wednesday to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan describing their proposed program, dubbed “Operation Safe Return.”
They’ll have the chance to make their case during a meeting with McAleenan in the coming weeks.
The program would allow the Department of Homeland Security to deport certain migrants within 15 days, according to the letter, and would help alleviate overcrowding at border facilities, Sinema said.
“This pilot program would apply to families who aren’t claiming ‘credible fear,’ which of course is the first threshold in seeking asylum,” Sinema told 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.”
Sinema is one of the main architects behind the proposed program, along with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Sinema said she came up with the idea for the pilot program in response to a meeting with White House and Trump administration officials who she said were focused on changing asylum laws and challenging court rulings like the Flores Settlement Agreement, dictating how the government treats certain migrants.
“I just felt those weren’t the right answers,” Sinema added. “We wanted to solve the problem. We wanted to protect the asylum process for valid applicants … and we want to respect the Flores decision.”
But the idea for the pilot program has raised concerns from migrant advocates who worry that speeding up the process could lead to cases of valid claims being wrongfully denied and migrant families returned to dangerous situations.
Ruben Reyes, a board member with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he worried about a botched implementation similar to last year’s family separations, which sparked a national furor.
“We still have children who are missing in the system,” Reyes said. “So we can’t take this letter outside of the context of what’s happened for the year and a half.”
Read the rest at: Migrant