GOP to announce border bill plan with fraction of WH request

The recommendations will include changes to a 2008 law that allows immigrant children to stay, sometimes for years, until their deportation hearing before a judge.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  July 17, 2014 at 2:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- House Republicans tasked with putting together a funding plan to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border made it clear Thursday they won't give President Obama everything he wants.

Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said Republicans planned to announce recommendations from the working group organized to hash out the House's legislation in response to an administration request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the influx of unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. from Central America.

The recommendations, Salmon said, would closely resemble legislation introduced by two Texas lawmakers, Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican., earlier this week.

Salmon said the group's goal had been to recognize the urgency of the problem and toe the line between partisan positions to make sure a bill gets passed.

While the proposal has "less than half" of what President Obama asked for, the recommendations will include compromises in both directions.

Salmon said the group would suggest amending a 2008 law that requires unaccompanied migrant children from countries other than Mexico and Canada to be placed within 72 hours into "the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child" until they can bee seen by an immigration judge, a wait that can take years.

Tweaks to the Wilberforce law would mean all unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border -- not just Canadians and Mexicans -- will be given the option to be sent back to their home countries immediately, rather than await trial to be deported.

Additionally, the group recommended sending National Guard troops down to the Southwest Border, and allowing border patrol to access federal lands, including wilderness areas where restrictions from the Department of the Interior have prohibited the use of motorized vehicles or the installation of electronic surveillance equipment without first conducting environmental analyses.

More immigration judges would bring the hearing waiting time for children down to 5 to 7 days, effectively ending the "catch and release" practice, Salmon said.

In a concession to Democrats, the recommendations do not include a repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a 2012 executive order that stays deportations for the so-called "dreamers" who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

"We're trying to move a package that actually changes the dynamic and will get to the president's desk, that's what we're trying to do right now," Salmon told reporters. "It probably won't get to the president's desk if we include that."

Republicans have pointed the finger at DACA, saying the relaxed policy has encouraged parents to send their children on the dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S. in the hopes that they will be allowed to stay.

And earlier this month, 33 Republicans signed a letter to the president threatening to block supplemental funding if a full DACA reversal wasn't included in the deal.

But should conservatives peel away, depriving Republicans the majority vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her members would be willing to consider signing on to get the bill passed -- if the bill includes provisions without a DACA reversal and without offsets.

Pelosi has wavered on whether changes to the 2008 law, which she says are "going in the wrong direction," would be a deal-breaker for her caucus. Last week, she told reporters that she would be open to changes, so long as due process were insured for arriving children, and though she took a stronger position in an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, she reiterated her earlier position again Thursday.

"In the here and now, we have to do what's right for the children, what's right for the American people, and that's not to draw lines in the sand with the legislation we have," she said. "I'm not for sending kids back, I'm for giving them due process."

"I think this can be done under the current law with the proper resources," she said.

House Speaker John Boehner offered veiled criticism of Pelosi's position -- they "are going to make this much more difficult to deal with" -- and said he thought that more money would not solve the problem on its own.

"I'm not sure how you can address the problem down there without looking at the '08 law," he said, adding that misinformation about the law was allowing it to be "abused" by parents hoping to send their children to the U.S.

Boehner said he thought it was possible the 2008 law offered the authority for the administration to make some changes without Congressional action in the event of an emergency, including allowing Central American children to be sent back immediately.

"They can take a number of steps now, but they haven't taken them," Boehner said. "I can't imagine our members are going to want to send more money down there without attempting to mitigate the problem at the border."

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