WASHINGTON — Leading congressional Republicans dug in Sunday on their view that President Obama's $3.7 billion emergency spending request to stem the flow of children across the southwest U.S. border is too costly and needs to include tougher immigration laws to pass.
As part of the spending bill, Republicans want to enact legislation that would expedite the return of unaccompanied minors that have flooded the U.S. border. Since October, more than 40,000 children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have turned themselves in at the border. By comparison in 2011, fewer than 4,000 children from those countries crossed the border.
"The best way to (stem the flow) is for planeloads of these young people to be returning to the country of origin and their families," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN on Sunday. McCain said it will deter families and "coyotes" who solicit money to get children to the border because they will see it's an ineffective way to get their kids into the U.S. "Then it will stop — and not before," he said.
McCain conceded that many of the children are fleeing dangerous conditions at home, but he said those seeking asylum should apply through existing channels. "The fact is that we cannot have an unending stream of children, whether it'd be from Central America or any place else, to come into our country with all of the strains and pressures that it puts on our capabilities."
In a rare agreement between the president and Republicans on an immigration debate, the administration has indicated support for new laws to fast track deportation proceedings even as leading congressional Democrats oppose it.
What the administration is more likely to resist is GOP efforts to trim the size of his spending request.
Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News Sunday that Republicans were considering a "very limited" emergency funding bill that would provide money only through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. He also said they could attach provisions to tighten border security.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., whose panel will write the spending bill, told reporters Friday that the current tab was "too much" but he did not say what funding level the committee is considering. House Republicans are expected to discuss the spending bill at a Tuesday meeting.
The political arguments in the illegal immigration debate may sound like the same ones we've heard for years, but with so many cases now involving young unaccompanied children, solutions aren't so cut and dry. VPC
The administration is also facing push back from some leading Democrats who think the president is bowing to GOP demands on deporting the children and not doing enough to address it as a humanitarian crisis.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told administration officials at a hearing last Thursday that their $15 million request to provide more lawyers to represent the children was "grossly inadequate" and expressed concerns that the children would return to dangerous environments. "What are we returning them to?" he said.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, likewise criticized the White House. "I have a problem with this administration. On the one hand, they say we want to send kids back as soon as possible. Then they turn around and say, well, but these kids are escaping violence and drugs and sexual abuse and gangs. How do you reconcile those two?" he said. "These kids need to be protected. They need to have (Health and Human Services) protect them, and care for them, and give them every meaningful right to apply for asylum."
Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, also voiced caution about changing the law to make it easier to deport the children on NBC's Meet the Press, countering that they should have the chance to make their case in court for asylum. The president has indicated that he would allow for amending the law in a way that would allow Border Patrol agents to render a deportation decision themselves to quickly deport the children back to their home country."
"Those are decisions for an immigration judge to make, not for the president or myself or any member of Congress," Castro said.