The legislation would rewrite the law to allow Central American minors be treated like those from Mexico and Canada, who can be deported more quickly. Under the plan, unaccompanied minors from any country would be able to have an immigration court hearing within seven days of their processing by Health and Human Services, and an immigration judge would be required to rule within three more days on whether the child would be allowed to stay or be deported.
The bill authorizes 40 new immigration judges to help process the cases. The lawmakers are calling their bill the HUMANE Act, an acronym for: Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency.
"The border region in Texas has been overwhelmed over the past few months by a deluge of undocumented immigrants from Central America,” Cuellar said in a statement. The legislation "strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of Border Patrol."
President Obama has asked Congress to provide $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the situation on the border. He also has lobbied lawmakers to give his administration greater statutory authority to process and deport the more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors who have been apprehended on the border this year. The sharp rise in the arrivals of the children, who have overwhelmed Border Patrol stations in McAllen, Tex., has turned into a humanitarian and political crisis for the Obama administration. Immigration courts have long backlogs of cases involving minors, who wait more than a year for their hearings in many cases.
But some leading Democrats and immigrant rights' advocates have opposed any changes to the 2008 law, which was designed to protect against human trafficking by smuggling organizations. They said scaling back the protections would risk sending the children back to dangerous situations in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where most of the minors are coming from.
The Cornyn-Cuellar bill does not strip all the protections in the 2008 law, which mandates that the Border Patrol turn over children from Central America to Health and Human Services within 72 hours of apprehension until they face immigration court proceedings. The new legislation would maintain that provision.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that administration officials had been in touch with members of Congress about ways to deal with the crisis, but he said he did not have any information about whether the administration had spoken specifically with Cornyn or Cuellar on their legislation.
"We'll review their legislation when they introduce it," Earnest said at the White House's daily briefing. "We certainly would welcome constructive engagement from Republicans. After all, there's been a lot of talk from Republicans about how urgent this situation is but not a lot of action."