Time is running out for Congress to address the continued influx of undocumented immigrants along the Texas border before members adjourn for an August recess.
Only hours remain before lawmakers leave Washington until after Labor Day, and they have yet to agree on a spending bill that would keep border security operations funded into the fall and provide government agencies more help to deal with the crush of immigrants from Central America. While at least two proposals remain on the table for consideration, neither seems close to passage amid partisan bickering over how to address immigration and border security.
One option lawmakers could consider Thursday is a limited House GOP bill that would, among other things, amend a 2008 provision in a human trafficking law that some blame for the current surge of undocumented Central American immigrants, particularly minors, crossing into Texas. The bill, which also provides about $400 million for border security, would make it easier for the U.S. to deport Central American minors, who currently are afforded more legal protections than Mexican youths.
The measure includes far less funding than the White House’s proposal of $3.7 billion or the Senate’s $2.7 billion counteroffer. The smaller price tag on the House proposal, though, hardly eases its passage.
Democrats oppose the bill because they say it would strip due-process rights from the youths. And Republicans have said the proposal doesn't do enough, arguing the measure should also prevent the expansion of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Obama's 2012 executive order grants some undocumented youths a two-year work permit and a respite from possible deportation. Applicants who received the deferment in 2012 have already begun reapplying for additional relief.
The House bill would appropriate about $35 million for National Guard deployment along the border and provide a total of $40 million to the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to assist in repatriating their citizens. An additional $197 million would help fund temporary care for migrant children who are apprehended at the border. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has processed more than 53,000 unaccompanied minors and transferred them to the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since October.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, told The Texas Tribune last week that failing to pass legislation to address the immigration crisis would send a horrible message to Central American and Mexican smugglers who are profiting from the exodus. Without additional funding, he said, federal immigration and border agencies could run out of money before the end of the summer.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, said he planned to vote against the House measure, because it would make deporting Central American children easier. There might be enough support in the House for the bill, which he called "awful,” to pass, he said.
Late Wednesday, though, the White House said the president would consider vetoing the bill, arguing that Republicans have had ample time to address the broken immigration system and that the bill fell short, The Hill reported.
House Republicans might also face opposition to the measure from their GOP colleagues in the Senate, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz urged House members to vote against the measure because it would not eliminate the deferred action provision that Obama approved. On Tuesday, Cruz reiterated his belief that the president's policies are responsible for the immigration surge.
“We must put an end to any expansion of this amnesty that puts countless numbers of vulnerable individuals, both immigrants and U.S. citizens alike, at risk,” he said in a statement.
Far-right groups also oppose the bill. Numbers USA, which supports policies that limit legal and illegal immigration, said it would consider a vote for the border bill a “vote for continued open borders.”
Late Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, continued to lobby for the House bill. In a news release, he cited a Congressional Budget Office report that said the measure would ensure that undocumented immigrant children are deported quickly and would make fewer children eligible for asylum.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted to bring to the floor on Thursday its bill that would provide $2.7 billion for the border. (The bill would allocate a total of $3.6 billion, because it also includes funding for an Israeli defense system and money to combat wildfires on the West Coast.) That measure, however, is considered a long shot, because Republicans have called it a “blank check” for the Obama administration that won't curb the influx of illegal immigration.