Congress eager to tackle border funding, but obstacles could sink it

Although both sides agree that President Obama's emergency border funding request should be handled urgently, the effort faces significant stumbling blocks.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  July 9, 2014 at 2:32 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- Both houses of Congress are moving quickly to take up legislation to meet President Obama's request for emergency funding to handle the influx of undocumented children entering the country.

On Tuesday, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., announced a full committee hearing to consider the request on Thursday.

"Without these emergency funds, children will continue to suffer, Customs and Border Patrol agents' ability to meet their mission will be compromised, and Central American families will continue to fall victim to false promises from smugglers and organized crime," she said.

And on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told his caucus in a closed-door meeting that he intends to have a House version of an authorization bill before Congress adjourns for its August recess at the end of this month.

But despite a clear (and relatively rare) sense of urgency on both sides of the Capitol rotunda, swift passage is far from a foregone conclusion.

Hearings on the issue have been sharply divided on the appropriate way to deal with with the flood of children crossing the border, numbering more than 52,000 since last October alone.

The White House unveiled its formal request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds Tuesday that included provisions for increased border patrol and aerial surveillance personnel, legal services for immigrant children, 40 new teams of immigration judges to hear their cases, care for the children while they are in the U.S., and the cost of repatriating and reintegrating the children into their home countries.

The administration, backed by congressional Democrats -- have laid blame for the influx of children on deteriorating conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where more than three-quarters are from. The emergency fund request includes $300 million to the State Department that would be spent in Central America "to address the the underlying root causes driving migration, i.e. creating the economic, social, governance, and citizen security conditions to address factors that are contributing to significant increases in migration to the United States."

But Republicans say Obama's immigration policies have only encouraged Central American parents to send their children north, and are likely to oppose including money for social programs in the emergency authorization. The only response, they say, is to immediately put all children who arrive at the U.S. border on planes back to their home countries.

"I can't think of a more humane thing to do to deter parents from sending their children to the U.S.," said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday.

Republicans were also deeply critical of the Department of Health and Human Services policy to place the immigrant children with a relative already in the U.S. without asking for the immigration status of that adult. They said that encourages just one in 10 of those children to appear for their immigration hearing, a number disputed by HHS and Department of Justice officials Wednesday.

Disagreement over how to offset the funds, along with broad procedural disputes that have plagued the Senate all term, are also likely to trip up any progress.

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