Donald Trump Paul Ryan
Credit: Office of the Speaker/Wikimedia Commons

This should go over well with persuadable voters:

Republican lawmakers are preparing to vote on a more narrow immigration bill that would allow immigrant children to stay in detention facilities with their parents for more than 20 days, senior White House and Hill officials tell ABC News.

The bill would correct an issue with President Trump’s executive order to stop the separation of children from parents who entered the country illegally. The existing law requires that children be released from detention after 20 days.

To be fair, Republicans are caught in a bind here. The Flores amendment says that the government cannot hold children for more than 20 days. If the government is unable to process an immigration or asylum case within that time, then the child–and crucially, their family if they are accompanied–must be released with instructions to return for a pending court date. Reportedly, some small percentage of families so released disappear and don’t return for their court date.

Correcting this supposed problem is the fig leaf of an argument for why Trump initiated the family separation policy in the first place: if the children are stripped from their parents, then they can be processed within the 20 day window while the parents languish in immigration detention for much longer periods.

No one is saying that immigration is easy, but the reality is that there isn’t a migration crisis, and insofar as there is a challenge particularly from Central America, the United States is more than well equipped to accept far more immigrants and asylum seekers than we currently do. There is no shortage of labor for migrant workers, the overall numbers of migrants are not especially high, and there are few if any social costs: immigrants commit violent crimes at lower rates than citizens do. Border towns are doing just fine. Finally, if the United States wants to make a dent in Central American migration, the solution lies not in draconian border enforcement but rather in altering its drug and foreign policy.

The decent and humanitarian answer to the issue would be to increase immigration quotas to allow more desperate migrants into the country. Failing that, the United States could use some of its vast wealth to build more humane detention centers for migrants, and hire more legal workers to better expedite the case load to comply with Flores and ensure that immigrant children are not housed in cages. At worst we could maintain the status quo ante, releasing those we cannot process in time and simply accepting that some small number will fade into the underground rather than return for their appointed courts dates.

Republicans, however, can’t do any of the above. Their first play at “fixing” Flores was to cruelly rip cihldren from their parents. Their second answer is to allow children to be jailed in cages with their families for far longer.

That answer is unlikely to please most Americans, either. Nor should it.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.