Plan for Young Migrants at Impasse in Congress


Lawmakers are deadlocked on a plan to deal with the surge in migrant children who are filling detention centers along the Mexican border, with both Democrats and Republicans saying Tuesday that it was increasingly unlikely they could reach an accord before Congress leaves town for a five-week recess at the end of the month.

Senate Democrats’ plan, which they will formally introduce Wednesday, calls for roughly $2.7 billion to stem the crisis — nearly $1 billion less than President Obama requested but enough, they said, to get through the end of the year. Republicans in the House and Senate rejected it out of hand, saying that it amounted to giving the president a blank check because it did not include any changes to immigration law to address the overall problem.

The impasse was another measure of how the partisan gridlock that has gripped Capitol Hill has doomed almost any attempt at compromise. Since the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate last year died in the Republican-controlled House this summer, the flood of children at the southern border has emerged as a fevered proxy fight over the nation’s broken immigration system.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican. “That’s a tragedy, not just for us but for all of these children who are being lured to our borders.”

Already, the debate is morphing into something far larger than a dispute over funding and immigration law. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has summoned 1,000 National Guard troops to the border, a move that conservatives have been urging for weeks. The gesture is largely a symbolic one, however, as the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, John F. Nichols, made clear on Monday when he said his troops had no plans to detain anyone who crossed illegally from Mexico.

Republicans have said they would only support giving the administration more money if Democrats agreed to go along with a change to a 2008 law against human trafficking that would make it easier to send the children back to Central America — something that most Democrats have so far been unwilling to do.

“We aren’t going to hand the president billions of dollars without policy changes to help fix the problem at the border,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio. “Right now, the lack of leadership from the White House is hurting our ability to help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis.”

The Senate Democratic funding bill would provide $1.2 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to care for the children and $1.1 billion to the Department of Homeland Security — less on both fronts than Mr. Obama requested. The bill would also provide $300 million to the State Department to go after traffickers and smugglers, as well as for public information to deter families from sending their children here. And it would provide $124.5 million to the Justice Department — more than the president requested, in part to provide 10 more immigration judges than the 40 judges Mr. Obama initially asked for.

The legislation also provides $615 million to fight wildfires in Western states, and $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“The United States has an obligation to help resolve these crises but is running out of money,” said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland and chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “The costs are real and urgent. We don’t save money by refusing to act or through delay.”

Though there is still a week and a half for Republicans and Democrats to find a way forward, they appear headed down irreconcilable paths. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to take up its $2.7 billion package on the Senate floor early next week. But that legislation is just a funding bill and contains no changes to immigration law.

“If they want to change the law,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, “that ought to be subject to a separate debate, a separate bill that can move that forward. But nobody believes that we’re going to complete that debate in the next eight days.”

In the Republican-controlled House, lawmakers are preparing to reveal their own set of recommendations on Wednesday morning. A group of mostly border-state Republicans, led by Representative Kay Granger of Texas, are expected to endorse changes to the 2008 law, an increased presence of National Guard troops at the southern border and funding for additional immigration judges.

The White House has been receptive to at least some changes to the 2008 law, with administration officials telling lawmakers in briefings that they would like more flexibility to be able to send children quickly back to their home countries.

The 2008 law, hailed as a bipartisan achievement at the time and signed by President George W. Bush, was intended to combat child sex trafficking by giving a new set of legal protections to children entering the country alone who were not from Mexico or Canada. As a result, those children cannot be as quickly sent back to their country of origin and are handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services.

An unintended consequence of the law has been to leave desperate parents in Central America with the impression that if their child reaches the United States, he or she can stay. Republicans and Democrats disagree about how far to go in rolling back parts of the law.

“I’m always willing to compromise, but not if it means taking away that element of the 2008 law and simply saying, ‘Well, you can round them up and ship them back without any questions,’ ” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. “I think these kids should have a presumption that they are refugees seeking asylum.”

To press Congress into action, the administration has emphasized the dire consequences a lack of emergency funding would yield. Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, said Tuesday that “at the current rate,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would run out of money in mid-August, and that Customs and Border Protection would be similarly broke by September.

He also emphasized the need to build centers in Central American countries to help stop the illegal immigration, saying that “hopefully Congress will fully fund” those efforts.

The White House also said Tuesday that the money was essential.

“The bottom line here is the federal government needs additional resources to make sure we are appropriately managing the urgent humanitarian situation at the border,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, noting that the money would go to judges, prosecutors and others to handle the influx.



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