Dianne Feinstein's Keep Families Together Act simply bans family separation. It's unclear what happens with the zero-tolerance policy. It might have any of the following impacts:
Because the child can't be separated from the parent, the parent can't be prosecuted for illegal border crossing. This is because other laws require that a child be separated from a parent in order to process the parent in the criminal system. This could end the zero-tolerance policy absent some clever workaround.
Much like #1, only no parent (not just border crossers) can be arrested for any crime within a hundred miles of the border. This is consistent with the plain text of the bill. This ends the zero-tolerance policy and quite a bit of other criminal prosecution.
In order to avoid #2, the courts create enough exceptions that the bill has no impact. Criminal prosecution law requiring separation would supersede this bill and it would be held not to apply to parents who are criminally prosecuted. In this case, it would have no effect on the zero-tolerance policy.
Absent a criminal prosecution, after twenty days, both parents and children might have to be released as a result of the Flores consent decree. Because the child has to be released and the parents must stay with the child. This wouldn't affect the zero-tolerance policy legally.
The Flores consent decree would no longer be in force, superseded by this legislation. Parents and children could be detained together for an indefinite period. This would not affect the zero-tolerance policy legally but might offer an alternative that the administration finds more palatable.
The Feinstein bill is not specific about which of these would occur. It just bans separations except under a few circumstances and lets the chips fall where they may. It might have the effect of repealing the zero-tolerance policy. Or it might not. I believe that the intent is #1 and #4. We'd have to see how it plays out in court. Reading it, #2 is a serious possibility. Parents of children could commit federal crimes with impunity within a hundred miles of the border. They could never be prosecuted, as this law would prohibit the attendant separation from their children.
Without the text of the proposed bill, we can't examine it for possible side effects in the same way. The general idea, from The Texas Tribune is
- Doubling the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.
- Authorizing new temporary shelters with accommodations to keep families together.
- Mandating that immigrant families be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to children.
- Providing for expedited processing and review of asylum cases so that — within 14 days — those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.
As I don't believe that crossing a border without a visa meets the legal standard of aggravated criminal conduct, this (as described) could have the effect of banning the zero-tolerance policy. It's essentially the same as #1 in the Feinstein bill in that regard. As described it would be harder to produce the other four Feinstein possibilities. Not impossible, as we don't have the text of the bill to examine for issues, but as described it would be more difficult. Of course, the typical descriptions of the Feinstein bill don't make obvious its flaws.
This mostly works by making the immigration system work the way that people think it would. It sets a specific process for deporting families as a unit. However, it is described as actually banning a necessary part of the zero-tolerance policy.
The Feinstein bill is rather vague and could be subject to odd legal interpretation. It may or may not end the zero-tolerance policy and the Flores consent decree. It may or may not have unintended side effects.
The description of the Cruz bill is better than the actuality of the Feinstein bill, but we'd have to see how it is actually written and potentially enforced by the courts.
It's also unclear how Donald Trump would receive either bill. He's spoken out against adding more immigration judges, which is part of the Cruz bill. And the Feinstein bill doesn't give him any of the enforcement advantages that he seeks. My guess would be that he would veto the Feinstein bill without significant changes. He might be willing to sign the Cruz bill. He hasn't addressed the bill as a whole yet.