President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address thousands of children entering the U.S. illegally at the Mexican border is being met by obstacles in Congress from lawmakers in both parties.
Republicans, who have long advocated tougher border security, are demanding legislation to speed deportation of the minors in exchange for new spending. Some House Republicans also say the funds must be offset with cuts elsewhere.
Although Obama wants to expedite the deportation of Central American children, many Democrats in Congress disagree with that approach. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, told reporters he’s not inclined to send children to places other than Mexico.
Most of the children are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
“Many of these countries that are sending these children are out of control,” Durbin said yesterday. “There’s no law enforcement to speak of, they literally shove the garbage in the middle of the streets so people go through it rather than starve to death,” he said.
“Let’s take care that we don’t send them back into a deadly situation,” Durbin said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor today that Obama had backed away from his earlier call “for reforms we all know are needed to address this crisis.”
The president “needs to work with us to get the right policy into effect,” McConnell said.
The president’s emergency spending request would boost border security and temporary housing for the children. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the U.S.- Mexico border from Oct. 1 through June 15, about double the total in a similar period a year earlier, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told fellow Republicans in a closed meeting yesterday that he wants to deal this month with the surge, said a party aide familiar with the talks.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the emergency funds today. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said this week that he wants a Senate vote before lawmakers leave for their August break.
“It’s something we have to do,” Reid told reporters on July 8.
Separate from the emergency spending bill, Obama is asking Congress to change U.S. immigration law to allow authorities to turn Central American children back at the border after a quick interview by agents, the same way Mexican minors are treated when they arrive.
Immigration and humanitarian advocates say that robs children fleeing violence and poverty of their rights to a fair hearing and legal counsel.
Obama omitted the law change from his request to Congress amid protests from some congressional Democrats.
Democratic leaders say they may need to accept the new policy to win enough votes for the increased spending, said a Democratic aide who sought anonymity to describe leaders’ views.
A vote to expedite deportations by treating the children the same as undocumented minors from Mexico will require some Democrats to choose between a policy they find objectionable and blocking funds the president says he needs to address the border crisis.
The debate over deportations is a dramatic reversal from last year, when the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Now, that approach to rewriting U.S. laws is imperiled by an emergency at the border, said Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The funding request “will only make comprehensive reform harder in the future,” he told reporters at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce immigration event.
Senator John McCain of Arizona joined other border-state Republicans on the Senate floor yesterday in demanding a policy change to discourage parents from sending their children on a dangerous journey north.
“I cannot vote for a provision that will perpetuate an unacceptable humanitarian crisis,” McCain said.
Fellow Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake said, “The most humane thing we can do is to encourage parents in these countries” not to send their children, and for them “to see these children come back.”
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, yesterday accused Republicans of misleading the public by saying Obama’s policies caused the increased migration.
“My Republican colleagues make it sound as if parents are willingly choosing to risk their children’s lives,” said Menendez, calling the children “refugees” who are fleeing violence and extreme poverty.
A recent report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found about 60 percent of the child refugees are trying to come to the U.S. because they suffered or faced harm that indicated a “need for international protection.”
Obama met in Dallas yesterday with Texas Governor Rick Perry, a critic of Obama’s border policies and a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. The two men held a face-to-face talk during a 15-minute helicopter ride and then together attended a meeting with state and local officials and religious groups dealing with the influx.
Obama urged Perry to pressure fellow Republicans in Congress to support his plan.
“Why wouldn’t the Texas delegation or any of the other Republicans who are concerned about this not want to put this on a fast track and get this on my desk so I can sign it and we can start getting to work?” Obama told reporters after the meeting.
In an effort to identify flaws in Obama’s execution of U.S. immigration laws, Republicans at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing yesterday in Washington challenged federal officials.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma repeatedly asked Thomas Winkowski, a U.S. immigration and customs enforcement deputy assistant secretary, whether federal officials are confirming the immigration status of adults who arrive to claim the children. Winkowski said the answer is no.
“If you’re not checking the immigration status, the likelihood that they’re going to show up before a judge is markedly diminished because it exposes them,” Coburn said.
Obama’s proposal would increase detention and court capacity to speed decisions, while expanding law enforcement and prosecution of the criminal networks that smuggle people over the U.S. border. The administration wants to improve temporary housing and care for immigrants while their cases are decided.
Some Democrats including Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana said they have questions before declaring their support for Obama’s request. Landrieu faces a tough re-election contest in November in a state Obama lost in 2012.
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioned how U.S. spending in Central America is being managed to address conditions, including gang activity, that are driving the children north.
“We don’t have any real indicators that the money we are spending down there” is working, McCaskill said. “Maybe what we’re doing is not working very well.”
The $3.7 billion request covers four areas: deterrence, enforcement, foreign assistance and capacity -- paying for the detention, care and transportation of children in the U.S.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said he will confer with a House task force on child migrants led by Representative Kay Granger of Texas. Granger has said her group will give a report to House Republicans on July 15.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and influential voice among House Republicans aligned with the Tea Party movement, suggested he would oppose the spending request unless the administration stops “granting amnesty.” Obama in 2012 decided to protect some undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children before June 15, 2007.
Cruz said most of Obama’s spending request “is not for border security” and instead would provide “social services for those who are coming illegally to the country.”
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