Congress is scheduled to adjourn for a five-week recess two weeks from today, and prospects of doing anything about the crisis on the border with Mexico are growing slimmer by the hour.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is determined to move legislation out of his chamber that would address the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children who have illegally crossed the border in the hopes of being granted some form of indefinite amnesty to remain in the United States. But what House Republicans might pass this month now appears headed for a roadblock in the Democratic Senate.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Senate Democrats were overhauling their political and policy strategy for addressing the border crisis. The Senate Democrats' emerging message to counter congressional Republicans: The border is actually quite secure and the border crisis is not one of security, but rather a refugees in need of asylum. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico is the point man for Senate Democrats in this effort.
“If we don't pass [President Obama's] supplemental, we're going to see this little stretch of the Rio Grande pull resources from elsewhere and undermine years of progress in effectively securing the border,” Heinrich told Greg Sargent in an interview. “Obstruction from Republicans is a serious threat to our border security. We need these resources to deal with the refugee crisis.”
Senate Democrats plan to come out more forcefully in favor of Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the border crisis. Senate Democrats will oppose any attempt to overturn Obama's 2012 executive order granting legalized status to certain illegal immigrant children -- a particular priority of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- as well as a proposal to revise a 2008 human trafficking law that House Republicans say is “non-negotiable.”
House Democratic members of the Hispanic caucus also have been pressing Obama to resist Republican demands to reform the 2008 human trafficking law so that unaccompanied Central American children who cross the border illegally are treated the same as Mexican children.
The statute, which originally passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, was intended to protect Central American children from human trafficking by allowing them to remain in the U.S. until it could be determined whether deporting them might endanger them. The law did not apply to Mexican children, so as not to encourage illegal immigration, but now Republicans and even some Democrats have said it is encouraging illegal border crossings by Central American youth.
Boehner acknowledged Thursday during his weekly news conference that the growing rift on this issue between Republicans and Democrats endanger the chances that a divided Congress might reach a bipartisan deal on legislation to address the border crisis.
“I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to,” the speaker said. “But again, we’re working with our border group, we’re working with the chairman of the Appropriations Committee to try to find some way to deal with what is a humanitarian crisis at our border, and it needs to be done.”
Boehner’s border working group, chaired by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, presented to him and other senior GOP leaders a list of possible for options for addressing the crisis legislatively. According to a senior GOP aide, the presentation occurred Wednesday. The group’s final list of recommendations, which is expected to form the foundation of the legislative package the House ultimately votes on, should be agreed upon by the end of next week.
Granger said this week that the group's recommendations would address humanitarian concerns for the children and offer proposals for beefing up border security. Among the items likely to be included, according to Breitbart News' Jonathan Strong, is a measure from House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that would direct the president's administration to develop a border security strategy.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., is leading the House GOP effort to craft a border bill.
Rogers said his committee has basically completed its analysis of Obama’s $3.7 billion emergency supplemental request and that all he needs to do to complete the legislation is receive the final list of policy recommendations from Boehner’s border working group. Rogers has made clear that much of what Obama is requesting won’t end up in the final bill, nor will it spend as much money as the president asked for.
“The money part of the bill is ready to go,” Rogers told reporters Thursday. “We can’t absolutely finalize the dollar figure until we see what the policy changes that are being considered by the task force, are.”
No major decision or further action is likely until Tuesday afternoon, when the House is scheduled to convene for next week’s business.