House Republicans proposed a legislative solution to the growing border crisis Tuesday that would make it easier to deport Central American minors who have entered the United States illegally. The proposal also would give the Obama administration much less emergency funding than it requested to deal with the crisis.
The plan, which would provide $659 million to help federal agencies stem the flow of illegal immigrants, seemed designed to win enough support from skeptical conservatives before the House breaks Friday for the rest of the summer.
That amount is far lower than the $3.7 billion that White House officials say is needed to handle the tens of thousands of migrants massed at the border. The GOP’s proposed changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law were met with strong opposition from key Democratic lawmakers, making it unlikely that Congress will reach an agreement by week’s end.
“I think there is sufficient support in the House,” Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said after a meeting of the House Republican Conference. But he added, “We have a little more work to do.”
More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 55,000 parents with children have been apprehended on the border since October, a sharp increase from last year that has overwhelmed border patrol stations.
House leaders are eager to pass a bill before leaving Washington to show that Republicans are serious about addressing the crisis. The White House has accused the GOP of playing politics by criticizing the administration’s immigration policies while not providing more resources.
But conservatives have balked at the amount of emergency funding with just two months left in the fiscal year, and House leaders have had to rapidly scale back their ambitions. The House GOP last week proposed spending $1.5 billion on the border crisis, then reduced the number to $1 billion before trimming it again this week to win more support.
Under the House bill introduced Tuesday, $405 million would go toward increased efforts to process children in immigration courts, and $197 million would go toward sheltering and caring for them. By comparison, the Obama administration has sought $1.6 billion for law enforcement efforts and $1.8 billion for shelter and care.
Administration officials said the families are fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. But GOP critics say the administration’s immigration policies are too lenient and have contributed to the problem.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration Tuesday, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said, “If President Obama took seriously his duty to secure the U.S. border . . . there would be no crisis.”
Even if the House were to pass a bill, there’s little sense on Capitol Hill that the Senate would approve it. Senate Democrats have proposed a $2.7 billion border funding plan that also has been met with bipartisan skepticism.
Further complicating matters is that the GOP is calling for amendments to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that provides greater legal protection to unaccompanied children who enter the United States illegally from countries other than Mexico or Canada.
The House plan would require that all unaccompanied children apprehended on the border have their deportation hearings within one week. Currently, backlogs have resulted in wait times of more than a year for many of the children, who are placed with relatives or in shelters as they await their hearings.
The White House had tacitly endorsed a change to the law in recent weeks, but most Democrats, along with human rights advocates, opposed overturning the measures meant to protect children from sex trafficking.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest objected to the House plan, arguing that the changes to the 2008 law could worsen the situation by imposing an “arbitrary” one-week deadline on deportation hearings. That could force the administration to take resources from other immigration enforcement priorities, he said.
“That sort of inflexible approach only risks bottling up the system further,” Earnest said.
In a further signal that both sides saw little chance of Congress approving an emergency bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that if the House approves its border legislation, Senate Democrats would consider trying to reopen negotiations on a broad immigration reform bill that died in the House this year.
House Republicans have opposed the comprehensive bill, which features a 13-year path to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants. Boehner suggested that Reid was trying to distract reporters from his inability to win passage of an emergency funding measure in the Senate.
Reid “is making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House’s common-sense solution,” Boehner said. “So let me be as clear as I can be with Senator Reid: The House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.