Republicans in Congress say they won’t give President Barack Obama the full $3.7 billion he’s seeking to cope with thousands of immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border -- at least not any time soon.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky said yesterday that Obama’s plan costs too much and that there are only “pieces of it that need to be dealt with immediately.”
Even some Democrats, including Representative John Barrow of Georgia, are critical of how the money would be used. And before agreeing to new spending, Senate Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona want to change a 2008 law to make it easier to deport the children.
It was a week of setbacks for Obama’s attempt to secure funds he says are urgently needed to boost border security and improve temporary housing for the children. Republicans are instead calling to revise laws they say encourage the influx of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The border crisis has intensified the Republican focus on heightening security and law enforcement along the southern boundary before considering a comprehensive revision of immigration laws. Democrats may have to accept speedier child deportations sought by Republicans as the tradeoff for passing additional funds for border control.
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.
McCain and Flake propose amending a 2008 law that gave legal protection to migrant children from any country except Mexico and Canada, which share borders with the U.S. Though the measure’s aim was to guard against the human trafficking of children, it has complicated efforts to deal with the surge of illegal immigration by minors.
McCain, Flake and many other Republicans 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, back the proposal, while others aren’t objecting to it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the proposal wasn’t a deal-breaker, although her spokesman Drew Hammill said yesterday she wants the 2008 law changed in the opposite direction, to treat Mexican children the way Central American children are treated now.
Democrats say the children should be treated as refugees because they are fleeing violence and extreme poverty. They say other countries like Costa Rica are seeing a similar increase in asylum attempts.
Barrow said in a statement he opposes Obama’s funding request because it “spends money on unnecessary programs that we can’t afford and does nothing to address the actual problem.”
Democrats who oppose amending the law include Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“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 supports revising the 2008 child-deportation law, though he didn’t include it in the plan he sent to Congress for dealing with the current situation.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul of Texas yesterday said a House immigration 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. The order is “the root cause of the influx,” he said.
The proposed law changes, and Rogers’s plan to handle new spending through the normal budget process, may lead to a prolonged delay in action on Obama’s plan.
Completion of the fiscal 2015 bills might be six months away, as Congress may rely on a stopgap measure to keep the government functioning through the November election. Lawmakers may not complete work on the fiscal 2015 funding bills until early next year if Republicans take control of the Senate and see an advantage in waiting.
The Senate’s proposed bill to finance the Department of Health and Human Services would increase the border migrant account by $1 billion to about $1.9 billion for 2015. That bill stalled amid a partisan dispute over amendments related to the 2010 health-care law.
Obama’s administration is emphasizing the strain the influx has put on federal agencies. At a Senate hearing this week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will run out of money in mid-August.
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 wants to improve temporary housing and care for immigrants while their cases are decided.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican, said yesterday that while she hasn’t seen details of the president’s proposal, “Congress needs to act.”
“The president needs to go down there and see it himself, like I did,” Fallin told reporters at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fallin said she has toured Fort Sill, where she said about 1,100 migrant children are being housed. That’s almost at the facility’s capacity and may affect military training if they stay longer than 120 days, she said.
Obama met on July 9 in the Dallas area with Texas Governor Rick Perry and others to discuss the crisis.
Perry, a Republican and longtime critic of Obama on immigration issues, followed up with a letter to the president in calling for changing policies that “encourage illegal immigration,” including those that thwart the quick return of unaccompanied children to their native countries.
Perry also asked that 1,000 National Guard troops be sent to the Texas-Mexico border. He asked for clearance to let them use Predator drones “for identifying and tracking human and drug trafficking.”