The Trump administration is drafting another immigration package to send to Congress but would not confirm whether it would include a fix for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs, which provides legal protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
"Our focus right now has to be on closing these loopholes once and for all," a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call Monday.
Several officials on the call warned of a rising influx of illegal immigrants and unaccompanied children coming from Central America in recent months and the life-threatening dangers associated with their journeys. They also complained that Congress's inaction is preventing federal authorities from taking more effective to actions to stop it.
"Our immigration system continues to encourage and allow an influx of aliens to illegally cross our borders and resettle in American communities," the White House said in a statement, blaming porous borders, legal loopholes, and insufficient immigration-enforcement resources.
Additionally, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that the agency on Friday notified immigration judges for the first time that it would begin evaluating their job performances on how quickly they close cases in an effort to speed up deportation decision and reduce lengthy backlogs.
The move, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, occurred after the union for immigration judges last fall agreed to drop its prohibition on the use of metrics to evaluate job performance.
The Justice Department on Friday sent the immigration judges a memo laying out the new quotas, which will take effect beginning on Oct. 1 for the next fiscal year.
The new quotas require judges to complete 700 cases a year, higher than the average of 678 cases judges are completing now, according to the WSJ report.
Monday's White House call with reporters came after President Trump made a series of statements on immigration in recent days in which he declared that any deal with Democrats to provide a DACA solution was dead and called on the Congress to take up "border" legislation and change Senate rules to make it easier to pass with a GOP-majority alone.
"Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release," Trump tweeted Sunday. "Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans' coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!"
White House officials on Monday acknowledged that "catch and release" is not a law but a U.S. policy that hasn't changed for several decades because there are not enough border officials and facilities to properly detain illegal immigrants and because several laws prevent the immediate return of illegal immigrants to their countries of origin.
The officials also complained about laws allowing more protections for unaccompanied children and other immigrants coming from countries that are non-contiguous to the United States, such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Those laws, one administration official argued, prevent immigrants from being "promptly removed," and the immigrants end up disappearing into the United States and never appear for their designated court dates for consideration of their cases.
"Catch and release loopholes, which are the result of statutory and judicial obstacles, encourage illegal immigration to the U.S. and prevent removal of aliens once they are here," the White House said in its release.
Under current law, the Department of Homeland Security can only detain unaccompanied children for a few days before releasing them to the Health and Human Services for resettlement into the United States.
Smugglers who subject the immigrants to dangerous traveling conditions exploit these "loopholes," the officials said.
"This is not just about law enforcement. It's about saving lives. As long as people think they are able to come to this country and enter illegally, they are going to make that trip and put themselves in harm's way. That's why we've asked [Congress] to look at these legislative fixes, and let's save some lives in the meantime."