By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Congress is poised for a fresh round of crisis-governing as Republicans on Friday proposed a scaled-back plan to deal with the flow of migrant children at the Southwestern border.
The emerging proposal from House Republicans is expected to amount to less than $1 billion, a fraction of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion request. It will bump against a bigger $2.7 billion package from Senate Democrats. Neither is expected to win support from both chambers.
With votes set for next week, days before Congress adjourns for the long August break, money is running out to care for the youths and process their immigration cases. An estimated 57,000 unaccompanied minors mostly from Central America have crossed into the United States since last year, many being sent to communities across the nation.
“The vast majority of our members want to solve this, and do it in a targeted way that actually addresses the problem,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the incoming GOP whip, after a closed session Friday of House Republicans.
Money, though, is only part of the problem. Congress is deeply divided over what to do with the children. House Republicans take a harder line, focusing on beefing up the border with National Guard troops and returning the children to their home countries.
The debate has intensified because of mixed messages from the White House.
The administration initially signaled it would ask Congress to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law to make it easier to return the children rather than guarantee judicial hearings required for refugees or others fleeing violence.
Democrats, though, have resisted that approach, and 10 Democratic senators signed on to a letter this week with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), opposing it. The White House has backed down, and the Senate bill does not include any changes in the law as part of the funding package.
Republicans, though, argue the law must be changed to stem the flow of new migrants, as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other administration officials have publicly stated.
It remains to be seen if the often fractured House Republicans can coalesce around the plan. GOP lawmakers appeared unusually unified Friday, possibly prepared to leave behind those who argue Congress should not act because the administration cannot be trusted to enforce laws.
“If we do nothing, the president is going to blame us for doing nothing,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN). “We have to step up and show we’re going to do this in an orderly, lawful, compassionate way.”
Under the House Republican proposal, Congress would reimburse states for deploying National Guard troops, as Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, has done, and speed processing of the children’s immigration claims. The House proposal would also allow law enforcement personnel on public lands beyond what is now allowed, a long-standing complaint in some border states.
The Senate’s bill mainly focuses on providing money to hire more immigration judges and care for the children while they are in judicial proceedings in the United States, a process that can drag beyond one year. It also includes funds to improve conditions in the Central American countries.
Staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.
Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT/Michael Robinson Chavez
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