By Greg Giroux and Tony Capaccio
July 13 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. law should be changed to speed up the deportation of Central American immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Republican lawmakers said.
The 2008 law signed by then-President George W. Bush gave legal protections to migrant children from anywhere but Mexico and Canada as part of an effort to combat human trafficking of minors. A surge of unaccompanied children -- largely from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- showing up at the U.S.- Mexico border has spurred calls for revising the law.
“All we need to do is change the act, the trafficking victims prevention act, to treat these children the same way as we do with Canada and especially Mexico,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program today.
“If you come to our country illegally, you will be sent back,” said McCain, who’s helping write legislation that would change the law and condition foreign aid to the three Central American countries on their governments’ help in preventing the illegal migration of unaccompanied 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, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
About three-fourths of the children originated from the three Central American nations after traveling through Mexico. Under current law, the unaccompanied children must be handed over to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours after their arrest.
“We think that law needs to be changed,” Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican who leads the House homeland security committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“And you have to do that because you have to have a message of deterrence. I think we need to act” before Congress goes on recess next month, McCaul said.
Many Democrats have said the children should be treated as refugees because they are fleeing violence in their home countries.
Representative Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, said the 2008 law was enacted in part “because many people believe that these kids should have a chance to make their case for asylum.”
“So I think we’ve got to be careful when we consider completely doing away with that law,” Castro said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We are the strongest, wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world, and children are coming to our borders; we should protect them,” Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who’s pushed for an overhaul of immigration laws, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
President Barack Obama last week requested that Congress approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help officials cope with the influx that has strained resources along much of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president’s proposal 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.
The proposal has received a tepid reception on Capitol Hill, with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers saying on July 11 that Congress probably won’t pass it.
“That’s too much,” Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said of the $3.7 billion.
Representative John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat, echoed the Republican criticism, saying Obama’s request “spends money on unnecessary programs that we can’t afford and does nothing to address the actual problem.”
Republicans also are arguing the border crisis has been sparked by a 2012 decision by Obama to halt the deportations of some young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
The situation “is a disaster of President Obama’s own making,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said last week.
The border crisis has intensified the Republican focus on heightening border security and law enforcement as a precondition for any move toward a comprehensive revision of immigration policies.
Obama and Democrats in Congress have pressed House Republican leaders to take up legislation the Senate passed last year that would create a pathway to citizenship for many of the almost 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
“It’s been folks in Congress, specifically in the House of Representatives, who have not moved forward on a bill that would have helped us prevent some of the things we’re seeing on the border now,” Castro said on NBC.