Battle lines harden in Congress over immigration crisis

Battle lines harden in Congress over immigration crisis
Adriana Ortez, 2, holds her stuffed animal as she and her mother, Dayana Ortez, of El Salvador, wait to board a bus leaving the city bus station in McAllen, Texas. The mother and daughter were heading to Los Angles to be reunited with family. (Rodolfo Gonzalez / Associated Press)

Battle lines hardened Thursday in Congress over how best to address the crisis of children on the border, as Democrats pushed back against efforts by Republicans — and the administration — to more quickly turn the youngsters back to their home countries.

Congressional leaders from both parties vowed to swiftly bring a proposal to a vote, but the White House's $3.7-billion request for emergency resources has unleashed several counter-proposals — and plenty of blame.


Common ground, though, was emerging between the administration and the GOP over the idea of changing a 2008 law to give Border Patrol offices more authority to turn back the children and more quickly send them home.

The proposal quickly gained traction among Republicans, and even though most Democrats remain largely opposed, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader, said the idea, while not her preference, was also "not a deal-breaker."

Arizona Republicans Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake introduced a bill that would allow the Homeland Security Department to quickly process the Central American children at the border, rather than providing them with judicial hearings as required under the 2008 law.

The backlog in immigration courts has created delays of up to a year, and many children who are released into the United States simply never show up for their hearings, contributing to the swell of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

"Our priorities are clear: to take care of these children, to return them safely to their home countries," said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

Democrats, though, vowed to oppose such a shift, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus drafted its own proposal to ensure that the children had advocates to help make their case in court.

"You know what my ears are hearing? Round them up and ship them back," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "Sounds like we're talking about cattle."

The border crisis has revived partisan debate over the nation's immigration problems. As Boehner blamed the border crisis as one of "the president's own making," GOP leaders were quietly meeting behind closed doors to tell a top Republican sponsor of a House immigration reform effort that his legislation would not receive a vote this year.

Even though that decision was no surprise, many supporters of an immigration law overhaul believe it could help stem the flow of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors who have arrived at the border since last year. The GOP leaders' message provided a certain end to what had been the House's best chance at providing an alternative to a bipartisan immigration overhaul approved last year in the Senate.

"I'm obviously disappointed," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who has spent more than a year drafting the bipartisan bill that he believed could win support from a majority of House Republicans and some Democrats. "And I'm a little sad."

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