House lawmakers will huddle Thursday night and Friday to try to rework spending legislation that would provide President Obama with additional money to deal with a surge in unaccompanied minors on the border.
In a dramatic turn of events, House lawmakers were summoned from airports and cars headed out of town for a five-week recess, and told to turn around and come back after GOP leaders first abandoned the border bill, then decided to take another crack at it after the rank and file revolted.
“I have a district forum that I can’t make because I’m missing my flight,” Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., told the Washington Examiner. “Right now I have about 300 people who are sitting in an auditorium who are waiting for me and I can’t be there.”
Bentivolio is among a group of approximately 20 Republicans who have refused to lend their support to the House border bill, a $659 million proposal that pairs border security provisions with money for additional immigration judges and for humanitarian aid for thousands of child migrants.
The fight over the House bill is practically irrelevant. The Senate will adjourn Friday and has no plans on taking up whatever the House passes because it plans to act on a Democratic version worth $2.7 billion.
The House GOP, however, is wary of adjourning for the summer looking as though they took no action to address the border crisis.
Bentivolio and other conservative Republicans want a variety of changes to the legislation, including the tightening of the wording on who can qualify for refugee status and the strengthening of border security provisions.
Republicans fear that many of the more than 61,000 unaccompanied minors plus thousands more families who have crossed the border will be allowed to stay under an expansion of who can qualify for asylum.
Bentivolio said he also wants to strike a provision that would allow U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder select the additional judges the bill would fund to conduct immigration hearings that would determine whether to deport someone or allow them to stay here.
“I’m not interested in that,” he said, pointing out that Holder was held in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over requested documents. “You can’t trust these guys to enforce the law. Come on.”
Others who oppose the bill are demanding additional legislation that would require President Obama to rescind a 2012 executive order that allows young people who came here illegally as children to avoid deportation.
The House was slated to allow a vote on such a provision, but some GOP lawmakers say the original language was watered down Wednesday night by the faction in the GOP who support the president’s executive action for young illegal immigrants.
“That was kind of slipped in at the last minute and obviously that doesn’t create a lot of trust,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said. “That shut off some yes votes.”
Still other opponents want the National Guard sent to the border and allowed to act like the U.S. Border Patrol. The House bill currently calls for sending the National Guard, but it does not direct the Guard to provide border security, which it is not allowed to perform.
“Right now, people in America are getting the false impression that if we send the National Guard to the border, we are going to be getting better security and that is not the case,” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said. “I would like a requirement that the National Guard would actually be allowed to patrol our border rather than baby sitting and changing diapers for illegal aliens.”
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who helped devise the House proposal, said despite the differences, he believes the lawmakers will be more amenable to passing a bill on Friday because they have all committed to doing something to address the border situation before leaving town.
“The will to get this done, and not leave this place with something unresolved, overshadows some of the differences that we have,” Salmon said.
The House GOP will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to determine support for the revised border bill.