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New House Bill Calls for $659 Million to Deal With Influx of Children at Border

Posted by on Jul. 30, 2014 at 6:17 PM
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WASHINGTON—House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a bill that would provide $659 million over two months to help deal with the influx of Central American children and families crossing the border.

The House GOP bill would grant less than one-fifth of the $3.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama to deal with the border crisis, in part due to its short time frame. Mr. Obama had asked for enough money to stretch over 15 months; the House bill would extend only until through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The House is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.

Republicans have responded to the surge of more than 57,000 unaccompanied children migrating from Central America since October by emphasizing the need to tighten security at the border. The GOP bill would deploy the National Guard to assist the Border Patrol and alter a 2008 anti-trafficking law to speed up deportations of the Central American children.

"The 2008 law will be tweaked so that all children are treated the same," said Rep. Kay Granger (R., Texas), who led a group that developed recommendations on the issue.


Ms. Granger said the law would be amended so that children from Central America could be returned to their home countries more quickly, in the same way that children from Mexico and Canada are currently treated. Democrats worry that a speedier process risks sending home minors who have legitimate legal grounds to stay in the U.S. and could return them to dangerous situations.

Senate Democrats criticized Republicans for including too little funding to care for the migrant children and fairly consider their legal claims to remain in the country. They also took a political step aimed at highlighting GOP divisions over a more sweeping immigration overhaul.

The release of the House bill set into motion elaborate partisan maneuvering in Congress, where a long-running fight over immigration legislation has morphed into a key issue in both this year's midterm elections and the 2016 presidential contest on the horizon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said if the House is able to pass its bill, that could provide an opportunity at some point to start negotiations with the broad immigration overhaul passed by the Senate last year.

"If they pass that, maybe it's an opening for us to have a conference on our comprehensive immigration reform," Mr. Reid told reporters Tuesday.

Negotiations between the two chambers over a sweeping immigration rewrite are unlikely to happen, however. House GOP leaders have repeatedly told the rank-and-file that they wouldn't agree to start any negotiations with the Senate on its sweeping immigration bill, which is deeply unpopular in the House.

"Let me be as clear as I can be with Senator Reid: the House of Representatives won't take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion," House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said in a statement after Mr. Reid's remarks.

Such a move would also face GOP resistance in the Senate. If Mr. Reid were to try to amend a House-passed border bill with the Senate's broad immigration legislation, he would need the support of at least five Republicans. The four GOP lawmakers who helped draft the Senate immigration bill have already said they wouldn't vote for it in this context.

Mr. Reid could also be playing into divisions in the House, where there is a contingent of Republicans who support a broader bill. Rep. Mo Brooks (R., Ala.) said he had concerns that a House-passed border bill could be completely rewritten by the Senate, which could "send back to us an amnesty and open borders bill that has a risk of passing the House over the objections of a majority of the GOP conference."

The narrowly-drafted bill put forth by House leaders Tuesday isn't likely to win many Democratic votes, so Republicans can't afford to lose very many GOP votes.

"I believe there is sufficient support in the House to move this bill," Mr. Boehner told reporters, but added, "We still have work to do."

The White House criticized House Republicans for their delay in releasing a bill and including funding far below Mr. Obama's request.

"We've seen a lot of House Republicans booking themselves on cable television to talk about what a serious problem this is at the border, but yet they are refusing to take the kind of action that would ensure the administration has the necessary resources to deal with what they themselves describe as a serious problem," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Some lawmakers have pressed to have a vote on ending Mr. Obama's 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which shelters many young people from deportation. However, GOP leaders didn't indicate Tuesday in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that legislation addressing the issue would come to the floor soon, lawmakers said.

"There's room for debate there, but let's keep this bill targeted on this particular crisis," said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) "We're trying to make sure we can get the votes without overreaching."

The House GOP bill wouldn't add to the federal budget deficit because it will tap into unused funds floating around other parts of the budget, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) Many Republicans had balked earlier at not offsetting the cost of the border bill. Approximately two-thirds of the funds will go to the Homeland Security and Justice departments to beef up border security, while roughly one-third will go to the Health and Human Services Department for care of the children, Mr. Rogers said.

The House legislation seeks to speed up the legal view of the migrants' claims by adding more temporary immigration judges and equipping hearing rooms with videoconferencing capabilities so that judges in other parts of the country can help tackle the border backlog, lawmakers said. Ms. Granger said the House bill will also include a "Sense of the Congress" resolution that the migrant children shouldn't be housed in military facilities, where they may be impeding some military activities.

Senate bill providing $2.7 billion through the end of the calendar year to deal with the border crisis isn't expected to advance past procedural votes later this week.

by on Jul. 30, 2014 at 6:17 PM
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