The U.S. House won’t support giving President Barack Obama his full $3.7 billion request to fund the response to the child migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border, Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said.
“That’s too much,” Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters in Washington today. Instead, he said most of the funding will be handled through regular U.S. spending bills.
“There are pieces of it that need to be dealt with immediately and that’s what we are working on,” Rogers said.
A proposed change in law to allow quicker child deportations at the border may also be handled through the regular spending process, Rogers said. He said he wants to deal separately with $615 million requested for fighting wildfires.
Democrats may have to accept the speedier child deportations sought by Republicans as the tradeoff for passing additional funds for the influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border.
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, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office.
Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona propose amending a 2008 law that gave legal protections to migrant children from anywhere but Mexico and Canada, the two countries sharing borders with the U.S. Though the measure’s aim was to guard against the human trafficking of children, it has handicapped efforts to deal with a surge of illegal immigration into the U.S. by minors from Central America.
McCain and Flake want to treat these children the same as unaccompanied minors from Mexico, who are quickly turned back from the U.S. after an interview by border agents. Some Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are backing the proposal, while others aren’t objecting to it.
Conspicuous among the latter group is House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who said yesterday the policy change Republicans seek is “not a deal breaker.”
Democrats have yet to determine “what price we’ll have to pay” to get congressional approval of the emergency funds Obama requested this week, she told reporters yesterday.
Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat and immigration chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said today he opposes reducing the legal rights of children fleeing violence. He spoke in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
“So the only thing Barack Obama’s ever going to pass and sign into law, right, is never an immigration reform bill that would bring benefit to our country economically,” Gutierrez said, “but a new deportation bill? No.”
The border crisis has intensified the Republican focus on heightening security and law enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico boundary as a precondition for a comprehensive revision of immigration policies. The influx of children, they say, proves their argument and has emboldened them to demand changes in the 2008 law, signed by then-President George W. Bush, as Obama’s funding request is debated.
“The only thing that’s going to stop these children from coming is if their parents see planeloads of them coming back to the country of origin,” McCain said yesterday. “Then they will have wasted” the money paid to people to smuggle the children north, he said.
Obama also supports revising the law, though he didn’t include it in the plan he sent to Congress for dealing with the current situation.
Democrats pledging to oppose amending the law include Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee.
“I can assure you that I will fight tooth and nail changes” to the law, he said at a hearing yesterday.
“When you have an eight- or nine-year-old girl who’s being raped by gangs” and escaping violence, “I’m not sure Americans would all feel like we should immediately send them back,” Leahy said.
Obama and his aides, in urging support for his funding request, are stressing the strain the influx has put on existing resources. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will run out of money in mid-August.
Though Obama has resisted calls that he personally visit the border -- saying officials such as Johnson have done so and kept him informed -- he met on July 9 in the Dallas area with Texas Governor Rick Perry and others to discuss the crisis. Obama was already scheduled to visit the state to headline political fundraisers for Democrats.
Perry, a Republican and longtime critic of Obama on immigration issues, followed up yesterday with a letter to the president in which he called for changing policies that “serve as a magnet to encourage illegal immigration,” including those that thwart the quick return of unaccompanied children to their native countries.
Perry also requested the immediate deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. He asked for federal clearance “to allow the National Guard to utilize Predator drones” along the border “for identifying and tracking human and drug trafficking.”
The proposal Obama sent to Congress would increase detention capacity and court operations to speed deportation decisions, while expanding law enforcement and prosecution of criminal networks that smuggle people into the U.S. The administration also wants to improve temporary housing and care for immigrants while their cases are decided.
Members of both parties have expressed concern about the plan’s cost.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters yesterday that the Republican-led chamber won’t support Obama’s proposal in its current form. “I can tell you this, we’re not giving the president a blank check,” he said.
Still, Boehner told the Republican House caucus at a July 9 closed meeting that he wants to deal this month with the surge, said a party aide familiar with the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said this week he wants the chamber to vote on a bill addressing the crisis before lawmakers leave for their August break.
Immigration and humanitarian advocates say the McCain-Flake push to revise deportation law would deprive children fleeing violence and poverty of their need for legal counsel and hearings on their status.
A report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that about 60 percent of the children seeking to come to the U.S. are making the journey because they suffered or faced harm that indicated a “need for international protection.”
McCain and Flake said in a statement that their proposal would return children to their home countries within hours or days. It would provide more immigration judges and require Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to do more to prevent illegal migration of minors or risk the loss of U.S. aid.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, told reporters yesterday he’s not inclined to return children to locales other than Mexico.
“Many of these countries that are sending these children are out of control,” he said. “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.”
“Let’s take care that we don’t send them back into a deadly situation,” Durbin said.