Republicans will grant only enough of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion spending request to address the immediate crisis of migrant children at the U.S.- Mexico border, the House Appropriations chairman said.
“We’re trying to sift out of his request those items and dollar numbers that need to be done immediately,” Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters yesterday in Washington. “The rest of what he’s requested we can consider as we process the regular 2015 appropriations bills.”
To gain enough Republican votes, the supplemental spending measure will be accompanied by policy changes on border security and law revisions to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors, said Texas Representative Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Lawmakers in both parties want to pass legislation to stem the border influx before leaving for Congress’s August recess. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at the border from Oct. 1 through June 15, about double the total in a similar period a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
House Speaker John Boehner said he wants to come up with a plan by the end of this week and is waiting for Rogers to examine the president’s request. A Republican aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said the House is likely to approve less than half of the money Obama requested last week.
The spending legislation will bypass consideration by committees and go directly to the House and Senate floors, said two congressional aides who sought anonymity today to discuss lawmakers’ plans.
Obama’s $3.7 billion request for emergency spending to deal with the border crisis covers the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 and the next one that starts Oct. 1.
The Republican approach is likely to spark opposition from both parties. A number of Senate Democrats will fight changing a law they say is meant to aid children facing violence and extreme poverty in their home countries. Some House Republicans will oppose new spending, especially if it’s not offset with budget cuts elsewhere.
“It is not, in my opinion, a border security crisis,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said today during a panel hearing.
Republicans in the House and Senate are discussing proposals to make it easier to deport the children by changing a 2008 law intended to protect them from sex trafficking. Two Texas lawmakers, Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, are introducing a plan.
Changing the law would help eliminate an incentive for parents to send their children to the U.S., Bryan Roberts, an economist with Bethesda, Maryland-based Econometrica Inc. who has studied the surge, said at a Senate Homeland Security panel hearing today.
“It would reduce the chance of a successful entry,” Roberts said.
Separately, a working group headed by Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger is preparing its recommendations. Rogers said he plans to incorporate the group’s ideas into the proposed legislation.
Sessions said he’s “very hopeful” the House Republicans’ plan will open unprotected lands to U.S. border control, including national parks and other wildlife areas. “There are sensitive areas where smugglers can go in,” he said.
Granger, who visited Central America over the weekend, said many Latin American parents think their children will be given asylum once they reach the U.S. border.
“There is no doubt the message went out: Go across the border, the United States won’t do anything about it,” she told reporters yesterday.
While a number of congressional Democrats oppose changing the 2008 law, Obama supports it. Republicans including Senator John McCain of Arizona say it’s a priority as the U.S. tries to stem the flow of migrant children.
Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland said yesterday that any change in the 2008 anti-trafficking law making it easier to immediately remove children from Central America should await further debate.
“If the speaker wants to make a deal on whether or not we are going to take care of children, we don’t think that’s the appropriate policy to pursue,” Hoyer said.
Obama requested the emergency funding last week to help officials deal with the surge that has strained resources along much of the southern border.
Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said in an interview yesterday that the funding total “is going to be pretty restrained.”
There’s “not a lot of credibility” to the administration’s claim “they have any earthly idea how to stop” the illegal crossings, said Cole, a member of the appropriations panel.
As Congress debates how to curb illegal crossings by children at the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas was released yesterday after being detained by U.S. Border Patrol officials in McAllen, Texas, according to the Facebook page of his organization, Define American. He was traveling on his Philippine passport, the website said.
About three-fourths of the children arriving at the U.S. border came from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Under current law, the unaccompanied children must be handed over to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours.
High rates of poverty and violence are contributing to the border surge, Roberts told the Senate committee today. In 2012, Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate of 91 killings for every 100,000 people, 68 percent higher than the next country, Venezuela.
The proposal by Cornyn and Cuellar would let U.S. agents turn back Central American children arriving at the border. It would provide a court hearing for those who don’t voluntarily return to their home country, said Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters he won’t support the proposal because “it’s too broad, it addresses more than just the border problem.”
In addition to reviewing the 2008 law, Granger’s working group is considering a recommendation to overturn Obama’s 2012 directive to stop deporting children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican, said last week.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org Laurie Asseo