Wall Street Journal
By Kristina Petersons and Laura Meckler
July 23, 2014
WASHINGTON—The partisan divide in Congress over the child migration crisis deepened Wednesday with the release of rival proposals in the House and Senate, increasing the likelihood that lawmakers would adjourn for their August break without an agreement.
Failure could put pressure on both parties to reach a deal later, if their differences are blamed for deepening the crisis. President Barack Obama could find himself compelled to use executive authority to hasten deportations in the face of opposition from his own party.
Lawmakers of both parties have widely deplored the situation at the southwestern border, where more than 57,000 Central American children traveling alone have crossed since October. But they have hit an impasse about whether to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law that bars expedited deportations for children from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Instead, these children are given the right to see an immigration judge, typically a drawn-out process.
House GOP recommendations released Wednesday would alter the law to accelerate deportations, while a Senate Democratic bill makes no policy changes.
With legislators digging in on this central point, Mr. Obama's request for $3.7 billion, largely to pay for the care and legal review of the migrants, appeared increasingly likely to go unanswered. The result could be that lawmakers defer the funding fight until September, when Congress must pass spending bills to keep the government running into the new fiscal year.
The House GOP plan proposed Wednesday would spend no more than $1.5 billion through the calendar year on the border and deploy the National Guard to help deal with the flood of migrants. The Senate bill would provide $2.7 billion through the calendar year.
Mr. Obama has requested a change in the 2008 law, but few in his party concur. Many Democrats contend that faster deportations risk sending home migrants who have a legal right to stay in the U.S. and who may be returning to dangerous conditions.
House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) wrote to Mr. Obama on Wednesday urging him to corral his party behind the changes.
"Frankly, it is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law," he wrote.
Senate Democrats were holding firm. "If they really want to take these kids and ship them back in five days without giving them a decent right to claim asylum, no, I'm not going to change on that," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa).
Immigrants' advocates say a priority is to preserve the law.
"It would be better not to pass anything instead of change the law so they are returned to the gangs," said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the administration can hasten deportations under the law by deploying immigration judges to shelters housing migrant children and quickly hear their cases.
Republicans have stipulated so far that they won't authorize sending money to the border unless the 2008 law is changed to quicken the pace of deportations and deter more migrants from crossing the border.
"That is the most critical point," said Rep. John Carter (R., Texas), a member of the GOP group that crafted the recommendations. "The law has great big holes in it and smart folks have figured out how to get through those holes."
Republicans face some political peril, particularly with the growing bloc of Hispanic voters, if they reinforce their image as being solely focused on border enforcement. And Democrats are likely to experience political backlash if their opposition to changing the law derails a funding bill, said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).
"If they want the status quo to continue, which apparently they do, they'll get no Republican support," he said. "Democrats are going to get creamed, and more people are going to keep coming."
Failure of Congress to act also could put pressure on the Obama administration to use its own authority to accelerate deportation proceedings for Central American children.
Leading Senate Democrats have said that the president has the authority to make changes on his own, citing language—specifically, that certain provisions are to be carried out "except in the case of exceptional circumstances"—in the 2008 anti-trafficking law that appears to allow for some flexibility.
Administration officials have been vague about whether they can take unilateral action. On Wednesday, a White House spokesman declined to say whether the president might move on his own to speed deportations.
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