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Graham unveils plan to stop 'humanitarian crisis' at border

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Lindsey Graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to reporters outside the White House after his meeting with President Trump on Dec. 30, 2018. (AP -
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP
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Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a four-pronged bill on Wednesday that he said was "designed to stop the humanitarian crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The plan, which focuses exclusively on immigration from Central America, would mandate that asylum claims be applied for at American consulates in migrants' home countries, Graham said, announcing his proposal at a news conference inside the U.S. Capitol.

"No more asylum claims at the U.S. border," he said.

The South Carolina senator said his proposal would also change immigration laws to extend the period of time a family with an unaccompanied minor can be detained at the border to 100 days. Currently, families with an unaccompanied minor can be held for only 20 days — a short period that Graham said creates an incentive for undocumented migrants to try to enter the U.S.

"Under our laws, if you come as a family unit and you come with a minor child, we can only hold the family for 20 days because we don't want to separate the family," he said. "We release entire family after 20 days. So word is out on the street in Central America that your chance of being deported is almost zero and your hearing date is years away and we release you inside the country."

Graham added that he wanted to change the laws so that unaccompanied minors could be sent back to their home countries "in a safe and secure way."

Graham is also proposing hiring 500 new immigration judges to deal with an asylum application backlog that he said currently comprised 900,000 applications.

"If we do these four things, then the incentive created by our laws will cease to exist and this humanitarian crisis will begin to repair itself," he said.

Graham's announcement comes amid efforts by top White House advisers to rally Republicans around a unified message on immigration ahead of the 2020 election. The new push comes as President Donald Trump, who built his 2016 candidacy on immigration and a promise to build a wall along the southern border, has struggled to obtain concrete results of his hard-line immigration policies in the first two-plus years of his presidency.

Trump aide Stephen Miller and adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to brief Senate Republicans about the broad outlines of an immigration plan the two have drafted. That plan, according to senators, includes conservative ideas on border security and asylum seekers as well as new proposals on legal immigration.

Graham said Wednesday that he was willing to work with other Republicans, as well as Democrats, to reach a deal on immigration, as long his four core ideas were incorporated.

"I'm willing to put other immigration ideas to marry up with this," he said.

A senior administration official told NBC News last week that Trump had green-lit an immigration plan — or at least the rough outlines of one — that centered around two priorities. The first was improving border security, which would include physical infrastructure and legislative changes to ensure border patrol agents have the authority they need to enforce the law.

The second priority was creating a merit-based points system that would keep legal immigration numbers at the status quo.

"This is President Trump's immigration plan," the official told NBC News.