Alaska delegation mulls Trump order keeping children detained with parents

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President Trump signed an order Wednesday to address the family separations at the southern border, but it raises new questions for Congress. Trump’s order calls for families to be detained together.

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“So we’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border, and it continues to be a zero tolerance,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “We have zero tolerance for people who enter our country illegally.”

Trump ordered the attorney general to try to modify a legal settlement that limits the detention of immigrant children so that the government can hold families indefinitely while their criminal or immigration cases are pending.

Among Alaska’s congressional delegation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is the most critical on this issue and she’s wary of keeping children locked up for long periods, even with their parents.

Murkowski said the family separations have to end.

“But keeping families in detention for an unlimited period of time, I don’t believe that is the answer either,” Murkowski said Wednesday, before she’d had a chance to see the president’s executive order. She said the solution has to consider the needs of families seeking asylum.

“Let’s go through the process, the procedure that will determine whether or not this is a family that should be able to seek asylum and safety here in this country, and allow them that process,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said families whose asylum claims are accepted by the government should be released from detention while they wait for their court dates. She added that the flight risk is lower for asylum seekers who’ve cleared that first procedural hurdle because they stand to gain legal status.

Murkowski also said she likes Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal to double the number of immigration judges and speed the process so asylum cases can be decided in two weeks, but she said she wants to be sure the bill is more than “aspirational.” She’s also considering a bill by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein that bans family separations.

“I think that in a couple of instances it is too expansive, so we’ve talked to her about how we might address that,” Murkowski said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan did not respond by deadline to questions about the Trump executive order. But he, like Trump, has said it’s important to end what they call “catch and release,” where families and asylum-seekers are released from custody to wait for their court dates.

Congressman Don Young hasn’t taken a position on either of the two immigration proposals the House is set to consider this week. A spokesperson said he’s waiting for the final text. Young, in a written statement, said he applauds the president’s executive order.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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