Border Patrol officials are bracing for another influx of unaccompanied children coming through the border this summer, a crisis that could diminish border security and would certainly affect the 2016 presidential elections.
The number of children who arrive this summer "may exceed" the thousands who made the trip from Central America in 2014. "And it makes it more likely that security risks can take advantage of that situation and penetrate our border, simply riding the tide of the high volume of processing that has to occur," Jan Ting, a Temple University Law professor who testified Wednesday before a House hearing about immigration and border security policy, told Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. "And looking at [fiscal] 2016, I think a lot of us think we're confronting that situation this year."
If that holds true, then border states face another summer humanitarian crisis. In 2014, the surge provoked a flurry of legislation in response to the problem. The experts proposed a variety of ways to mitigate the problem, but Congress will be out for an extended summer recess due to the presidential elections.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Ting's projections. "As of January 31 this fiscal year, CBP has apprehended more than 20,000 [unaccompanied children], compared to approximately 10,000 apprehended during the same period last year," acting chief Ronald Vitiello said in his prepared remarks. "As we enter the traditional season of higher migration, we are closely monitoring this situation and working with our partners to ensure that resources and capabilities are in place to accommodate an increased number of [unaccompanied children], and to maintain safe, orderly processing of children that CBP encounters, without disrupting CBP's vital border security mission."
If the "traditional season of higher migration" unfolds as expected, Congress would already be in the midst of an extended summer recess. And Republicans would be at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which is scheduled for July 18-21. "The border crisis is going to hit at exactly the wrong moment, politically," said Rick Wilson, a GOP operative who supported Marco Rubio's campaign.
With the GOP potentially headed to a convention floor fight over the nomination if Donald Trump can't secure a majority of delegates ahead of time, the border crisis could affect the primary as well as the general election. "It will play into the Trumpian narrative," Wilson said. "I don't see a good outcome from it for anybody, except for probably him."
Congressional Republicans aren't expected to pass major immigration legislation before the election, but House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team have said a House task force on national security might produce a border security proposal. "That very possibly could come up this year," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told the Washington Examiner last month. "I don't predetermine. The one thing we want to do here is bottom-up. We want everybody to have a voice and a say."
McCarthy noted that the House tackled border issues almost as soon as he ascended to the leader's office in June of 2014. The debate over that crisis continued throughout July, to the point of delaying the August recess. "One of my very first days as leader, I kept us here another day just to pass the border bill, we could not leave on recess," McCarthy recalled in February. "So, that's one of our biggest challenges and we want to make sure we get it right."