House Leaders Voice Doubts on Backing for Border PlanHeidi Przybyla and Erik Wasson
U.S. House leaders from both parties expressed doubts that Republican proposals to speed deportations of children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border will have enough support to advance.
“I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have” that an emergency plan to cope with the border influx will pass Congress before the August break, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters yesterday. “We don’t have a bill yet” and discussions continue with lawmakers, the Ohio Republican said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also voiced skepticism that Boehner will have the votes to approve an emerging plan by a Republican working group. She spoke against two Republican demands -- changing a 2008 law meant to protect undocumented children from sex trafficking and offsetting new spending with budget cuts elsewhere.
“It will be interesting to see how many votes the speaker has on his side to help the children,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat. Republicans have needed votes from Democrats to pass several major bills in the past few years.
President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion last week to cope with the surge of unaccompanied children. Republicans say they will grant only enough funding needed to handle immediate needs at the border -- less than half of the amount Obama seeks, said Arizona Republican Representative Matt Salmon.
Republicans also want to change policies that many lawmakers think are exacerbating the surge of children from Central America.
A task force led by Texas Republican Kay Granger of Texas will recommend sending National Guard agents to the U.S.-Mexico border and adding judges to immigration courts to speed the deportation of unaccompanied minors, said Salmon, a task force member.
Salmon told reporters the group will recommend revising the 2008 law to make it easier to return unaccompanied children to their home country after a quick interview with border agents. Those who don’t leave voluntarily would be given a hearing within five to seven days, he said.
The group also will propose opening unprotected border areas, such as U.S. national parks, to border patrol, Salmon said. Spending in the measure will be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, he said.
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. Most of the children are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California said the chamber may vote next week on the supplemental spending. He gave no details.
Second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland urged Republican leaders to bring a spending bill without immigration policy changes to the floor. He said the policy changes would complicate passage as many Democrats oppose them.
Pelosi said growing Republican support for offsetting new spending at the U.S. border with other budget cuts elsewhere is “problematic.”
The Obama administration is also asking senators to change the law to make it easier to deport children who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asked senators at a private meeting two days ago to change the law, said Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Senate Democrat.
A number of Democrats oppose revising the 2008 law, which they say is meant to aid children facing violence and extreme poverty in their home countries.
Other Democrats say they are willing to join Republicans to change the law to allow border agents to more quickly turn Central American children back at the border. It’s the same way children from Mexico are treated.
“My own view is that the two go together,” Carper, a Delaware Democrat, said about the spending request and policy change.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, Republicans were united in demanding policy changes to accompany Obama’s funding request. Currently, most undocumented children from Central America are allowed to stay in the U.S. after being brought to the southern border by smugglers seeking financial gain, said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.
A statement from the House Judiciary Committee today said figures from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show that 65 percent of unaccompanied children seeking asylum received immediate approval from asylum officers in 2014, an increase from 28 percent in 2007. Those who are rejected can appeal, and most of those receive approval from an immigration judge, the committee said.
“This is a successful marketing strategy that smugglers have latched onto,” Flake said. “Unless we change the incentives, it will work.”
Thomas Shannon, a State Department counselor who testified at the hearing, said sending the children back home “won’t stop the migration.”
“The migration has to be addressed in the home countries because these kids are boomerangs, it doesn’t matter how far you throw them,” Shannon said.
Flake also said Obama’s plan would allocate too much money to sheltering the children instead of deporting them. “It seems to be geared at maintenance of a problem instead of actually changing a problem,” he said.