White House punts on trafficking law

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The White House on Tuesday punted questions about whether a 2008 trafficking law should be changed to stop a wave of child immigrants crossing the border.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was up to Congress to decide whether to link changes to that law to Obama’s $3.7 billion request for funding to deal with the crisis.

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“In terms of the legislative machinations of all this, we're going to rely on Congress to do its business in the way they think is most appropriate,” he said. “What we would like to see is prompt action.”

Congressional leaders clashed over the law on Tuesday, with Republicans saying they would insist on changes to the 2008 law, which they argue incentivizes minors to cross the border. Democrats said no preconditions should be placed on the $3.7 billion funding request, and that changes to the trafficking law should be discussed on a separate tack.

Unlike Mexican children, who are immediately returned to their home country, children from Central America are allowed to enter the country and housed in federal facilities or placed with foster families while working through asylum and deportation proceedings.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said a tweak to the law “would be an element of any package we do on the border.”

The White House has asked for greater authority for the Department of Homeland Security in interpreting the law, but not detailed exactly what that would look like. 

On Tuesday, Earnest said he was “not in a position to shed a whole lot of more light on the details” on what the administration wants, or how it would be implemented.

Some Republicans have suggested changing the law so that border patrol agents could immediately return children to their home countries, as happens with Mexican children.

But Earnest said the issue was “more complicated” since the U.S. could not turn the children around, like they could with Mexicans.

“If it's an individual from Mexico, you're able to in some cases prevent them from entering, and they're not sort of caught in this no man's land that an individual from Central America might be,” Earnest said.

“So it's this logistical complication that we're working through,” he added.

Earnest said the White House does “believe that individuals from Central America who are apprehended along the southwest border are entitled to due process.”

“That is a principle that this administration continues to support,” Earnest said.