Republicans and Democrats are hardening their divide over how to address a surge of Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border with little more than a week left before Congress takes its August break.
House Speaker John Boehner is seeking support for a plan to speed deportations and grant President Barack Obama only $1.5 billion of the $3.7 billion in emergency spending he requested.
Because that is still too much for many Republicans, Boehner may need help from Democrats to pass a bill. Yesterday, second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer said his party members oppose Republicans’ demand to change a 2008 law to speed the deportations of unaccompanied children as part of a spending bill.
The speaker also sent a letter to Obama asking him to reiterate his prior support for revising the law.
“It is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms,” Boehner wrote.
Eric Schultz, White House deputy press secretary, told reporters, “I’m not sure what the speaker’s referring to.” He added, “We want to work with Democrats and Republicans to make sure those changes are done the right way” after providing personnel to deal with the children.
Republicans support allowing U.S. agents to more quickly turn children from Central America back from the border. Democrats say the law -- meant to protect children from sex trafficking -- gives children fleeing violence and poverty a chance to make a claim for asylum.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors 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. Most of the children came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
In the Senate, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski yesterday released Democrats’ $2.7 billion border proposal that would fund most of what Obama sought, though only through Dec. 31. Obama asked for funds to deal with the influx through Sept. 30, 2015. Also, Mikulski’s plan wouldn’t change the 2008 law.
Obama yesterday sent a team to the Texas border with Mexico to assess whether National Guard troops can help deal with the influx of undocumented children. Texas Governor Rick Perry announced this week he will send as many as 1,000 National Guard troops under his control to the border.
House leaders spent yesterday gauging support for the $1.5 billion border proposal from their Republican members.
Republican Tom Cole, a Boehner ally, said in an interview that voting “no” on the proposal “may be the easiest vote for individuals, but it’s the wrong vote for the Republican conference.” He added, “We’re put here to do something, not to do nothing, and we have a sensible solution.”
While Boehner told reporters that Congress should act before the August break, incoming Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said he “can’t answer” whether the House will vote quickly.
The standoff with Democrats has some lawmakers, including Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, leaders on immigration issues, predicting that Congress is unlikely to come up with a plan by August.
Republicans propose changing the child deportation law to allow Central American children to be voluntarily returned to their home country. Those who don’t voluntarily leave would be given an immigration hearing within a week.
Hoyer, of Maryland, said he spoke yesterday with Cecilia Munoz, Obama’s domestic policy adviser, and that Democrats and the White House oppose changing the 2008 law as part of a spending bill. He quoted Munoz as saying the administration would consider changing the law after a spending measure is passed.
The law, passed with bipartisan support and signed by President George W. Bush, shouldn’t be revised without more deliberation, including congressional hearings, Hoyer said.
Still, Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, who earlier offered a proposal with Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, said he was open to considering the Republican plan.
The plan “mirrors a lot of what we’ve been saying,” Cuellar said.
The $1.5 billion draft border proposal, offered yesterday by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, is the maximum amount party members said they could support. That may be reduced further because members of their own party won’t accept more spending.
“That would be too much for me,” Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on that chamber’s Appropriations Committee, said of the Rogers proposal.
Representative Mike McCaul, a Texas Republican, said support for the Republican plan is “unclear.”
Members of the Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 170 House members, met to consider the proposal. Afterward some said they favored doing nothing or passing a symbolic resolution blaming Obama for the crisis.
“There are some compelling arguments against taking action,” Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said.
Some Republicans reject the plan’s price tag and say the children should be put on one-way flights back to their home countries.
“There’s no way I’ll support” it, said Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama. “To spend billions of dollars on foreign children, money that we don’t have, that we have to borrow to get, that we can’t afford to pay back, is financial insanity when you can solve the problem with as little as $20 to $30 million.”
Still, Representative Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican and a member of the task force that made recommendations included in Rogers’s proposal, said he isn’t worried about passage.
“By and large, support is pretty wide and pretty deep,” Salmon said.