In 2014, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif) encouraged President Barack Obama to use his "broad power" to limit the "crisis" of unaccompanied minors at the border due to "sufficient flexibility in the current law," the same law President Donald Trump has cited in forming his administration's policies on asylum seekers.
Feinstein has been critical of the the Trump administration's immigration policies and has accused it of "intentionally inflicting trauma on children" by separating them from their parents.
The California senator, however, supported the Obama administration having broad power to take action on immigration. In a 2014 letter to Obama, Feinstein cited the Immigration and Nationality Act as the basis for him to take action as he saw fit, Fox News reports. The act dictates a president has the power in certain circumstances to suspend or restrict the entry of "all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants."
"Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate," the act states.
Feinstein told Obama, "the plain language appears to give you the authority to implement all the draft changes" in legislation provided by his staff, including "offering children … the ability to accept voluntary departure and return, "limiting appeal rights," and keeping "children … in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security rather than transferring them to the Department of Health and Human Services."
Feinstein concludes her letter by telling Obama, "It therefore appears no legislation is necessary to give your administration the tools it needs to respond to this crisis, and that any temporary needed measures can be implemented through presidential action."
The Trump administration has similarly argued it has the authority to take action at the southern border. The Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday that any immigrants who enter the country illegally will be barred from receiving asylum and that asylum requests must be made at a legal port of entry. Previously, asylum claims could be made at any time regardless of how the person in question entered the country. Trump annoucened on Friday he signed an immigration proclamation to implement the policy.
Last week, Feinstein accused Trump of "stoking fear about immigrants" and said that asylum speakers were "not an urgent national security threat."