Gutierrez: Immigration fix is deportation 'in sheep's clothing'

A key House Democrat on immigration reform is slamming a bipartisan bill that would make it eaiser to deport child immigrants from Central American countries who are crossing the border illegally.

“This is not the middle ground, this is the deportation-only agenda dressed up in sheep’s clothing," Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said of the bill introduced by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

"More of the same is not a solution,” he said.

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Gutierrez had already expressed opposition to the Cornyn-Cuellar proposal at a press briefing on Friday in which he and his colleages from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus disavowed Cuellar, a centrist Democrat. 

In his statement Tuesday, Gutierrez said it would be “shameful” to take away the legal rights of vulnerable children.

Cornyn and Cuellar are unveiling legislation that would amend a 2008 law to treat all unaccompanied minors the same.

Under current law, unaccompanied immigrant children from Mexico or Canada must be screened within 48 hours and sent back to their countries unless they are human trafficking victims or have claims for asylum. But children from countries that don't border the U.S. must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and appear at an immigration hearing, which takes more time.

The Cornyn-Cuellar bill would expand the law to more swiftly deport children to countries in Central America — from which most of the 57,000 unaccompanied minors have come from since last October.

Cornyn’s press secretary, Drew Brandewie, on Tuesday told The Hill in response that all legal protections previously granted to these children would be left in place under the proposal.

The bill would allow children who have a legitimate claim to legally stay in the U.S. to appear before an immigration judge within a week of an HHS screening. The judge would then decide whether to keep or deport the child within three days.

Gutierrez argues the proposal would “not help establish democracy and the rule of law in Central America, this will not crackdown on the smugglers, but this will send children back into harm’s way by curtailing basic humanitarian protections enshrined in decades of American law.”

Congress has an important decision to make, Gutierrez said. 

“Do we want to create a border with Mexico that rivals the militarization of the border between North and South Korea? Is that our response, to shut out our neighbors and stick our heads in the sand?”