Future unclear for House Republican response on border crisis

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The House could vote on legislation to address the border crisis as early as next week, although prospects for bipartisan agreement in a divided Congress remained murky.

House Republicans on Wednesday afternoon were close to finalizing a legislative package to deal with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America who have flooded the Southern border and overwhelmed U.S. immigration authorities.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, chairwoman of the working group Speaker John Boehner has tasked with developing solutions to the border crisis, told the Washington Examiner that she expected the group to unveil its recommendations “before the end of the week.”

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who has taken the lead in assembling the House GOP legislation, made clear that the chamber would pass a bill to address the border crisis before it adjourns for its five-week summer recess at the end of July.

“We're crunching the numbers and waiting for the [border] group,” Rogers said. “As soon as we get the final policy inserts, we can go pretty quick.”

But House Democrats who are members of the chamber's Hispanic caucus were headed to the White House to meet with President Obama and essentially urge him to oppose measures that Republicans have said are crucial to addressing the situation. Democrats now appear to oppose changes to a 2008 law that was supposed to protect Central American children from human trafficking but has been blamed for the mass migration of unaccompanied minors.

“With respect to those kids who are here, from Central America, we think that the 2008 law should be honored,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, told reporters.

Rogers said that altering the 2008 law was “non-negotiable.”

Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, both of Texas, would change the 2008 law such that Central American children would be treated the same as Mexican children, essentially making it easier to deport them.

Under current law, Central American children can remain in the U.S. indefinitely while their asylum claims are processed, while children from Mexico must be deported within a week's time.

Some Republicans might oppose the Cornyn-Cuellar bill nonetheless because they want greater emphasis on forcing Obama to reverse an executive action he took in 2012 that essentially granted amnesty to certain categories of illegal immigrant children.

But the issue could get bottled up in the Senate regardless, because Democrats there are unlikely to approve of the forthcoming House Republican proposal. House Republicans have dismissed Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding as too expensive and said they're likely to swap out many of the president's proposals for measures they favor that focus on border security.

Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico indicated that he favors Obama's approach and questioned GOP claims that border security should be the priority of the emergency funding bill.

“We need to pass the supplemental so we have all the resources that we need on the border and to process these folks and then we need to turn around and pass comprehensive immigration reform to deal with some of the long-term problems,” he said, adding, “The border’s more secure than it’s been in many years.”

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David M. Drucker

Senior Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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