Posted: Wednesday, July 16th 2014 at 9:13pm
Obama's border spending request in jeopardy
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic opposition increased Wednesday to legal changes that would speed removals of young Central American migrants, jeopardizing President Barack Obama's call for $3.7 billion in emergency border spending to deal with the remarkable surge of unaccompanied youths at the South Texas border.
Republicans insist they won't agree to the spending without accompanying changes to a 2008 law that gives unaccompanied minors arriving from Central American the right to an immigration hearing, in practice keeping them in this country for years.
But Democratic resistance to such changes hardened, with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi changing her stance Wednesday and announcing her opposition to altering the law in a way that would create shortcuts around the immigration court system for Central American youths. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also took a firm stand against any changes and were meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to press the point.
``Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus feel as though the kids should have their day in court,'' Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said ahead of the meeting. ``We hope that (Obama) agrees. We hope that he will honor the purpose of the 2008 law.''
Meanwhile top administration officials including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson were to brief all senators behind closed doors Wednesday evening in a meeting that could help determine whether the issue can be resolved on Capitol Hill in the three weeks remaining before lawmakers leave town for their annual August recess.
The 2008 law in question requires unaccompanied youths under the age of 18 who cross the border illegally to receive an immigration hearing, a process that is heavily backlogged and means that many wait months to years. That provision does not apply to border-crossers from Mexico, however. If captured, unaccompanied Mexican youths can be returned promptly if a Border Patrol official determines that they don't have a claim for asylum or refugee status.
A plan by House Republicans and a bipartisan bill proposed by Texas lawmakers would change the law to allow Central Americans to be treated the same way as Mexicans. Administration officials have said they want that kind of flexibility, but have not proposed specific legislation. House Republicans are working to pair their policy changes with a much smaller spending bill they hope to bring to a vote as early as next week.
On Tuesday, Pelosi's office said she opposes those changes, a shift from last week when she said that changes to the 2008 law would not be a deal breaker on Obama's request for emergency spending for the border. ``If any changes to the 2008 law are made, they must ensure due process for these children,'' her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said.
Pelosi's new stance comes as pressure has mounted from immigration advocates, who say the speedy Border Patrol process used for youths from Mexico ignores the risks they face back home and would send Central American kids back to vicious gang violence and worse.
The White House has not taken a position on the congressional proposals. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House would support changes that speed up the removal of border-crossers as long as their rights are protected. But the White House has not provided details on how that could work.
Much of the $3.7 billion in emergency spending Obama is seeking to address the border crisis would be used to increase enforcement at the border and to provide additional facilities to house unaccompanied minors, most of whom come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said he and others told Pelosi in a meeting with lawmakers and advocates last week that there was strong opposition to changing the 2008 law, a point he said he reiterated in a full House Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday. He said many Democrats will not support any emergency spending for the border if it's attached to rollbacks to the 2008 trafficking law.
``If we change the policy what we are saying to the criminal enterprise that exploits children there is no punishment for you,'' Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez also criticized the White House's negotiating strategy for indicating openness to changing the law early on.
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