By Mike Lillis - 07/11/14 10:51 AM EDT
Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus pushed back hard against one of their own on Friday, saying Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) doesn't speak for the group in calling to make it easier to deport Central American children amassing at the southern border.
"Henry Cuellar does not represent the Congressional Hispanic Caucus," CHC Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) said during a press briefing. "He's a Blue Dog; he comes to the meetings once in a long time."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) emphasized that Cuellar is "a friend and a colleague of ours." But, he added, "we disagree with him on this issue."
Critics of that plan argue that it would undermine the due process rights of those migrant children, as established by a 2008 law that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Cuellar has defended his plan, saying it keeps in place all the same asylum, anti-trafficking and "credible fear" protections that exist under current law. He says his bill simply establishes a uniform system for all migrants.
"Why is there a difference for contiguous and noncontiguous countries?" he asked on CNN's "New Day" program. "Let's go ahead and treat every country the same way we treat Mexico and Canada."
Republicans agree that there need to be changes to the 2008 law — officially known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — to allow the administration to screen and remove the migrant children more easily. They're insisting that such changes accompany President Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the border crisis.
"Clearly, we would probably like the language to be similar to what we have with Mexico," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday during a press briefing.
CHC leaders said Friday that Republicans will have a fight on their hands if they insist on changes that roll back any legal protections established by the 2008 law.
"Let me make it absolutely clear: I'm not voting for a supplemental bill that includes changes and abrogates the rights of children as established [under that law]," said an emotional Gutierrez. "We should have a clean bill. That is what we're going to make sure happens."
Hinojosa said that, Cuellar aside, the rest of the CHC agrees.
"What you are hearing now is a unanimous voice of those who have been participating in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus," he said. "But make it clear: Cuellar does not speak for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the many other caucuses who are united with us, including the Black Caucus and the Asian Pacific-American Caucus."
A number of top Republicans are pushing back hard against Obama's funding request, saying it dedicates too much money to migrant care and not enough to border security, expediting the deportations and deterring the migrants to begin with.
"What he wants to do is treat the symptoms and not the cause," Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), told CNN Thursday night. "And what we have to do really is reverse the policies that are allowing these children to come in. You need to take care to make sure the kids are safe and you just can't open the borders."
Gutierrez noted that some of Congress's staunchest conservatives — including Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — supported the 2008 law. He accused the Republicans criticizing Obama's response of playing politics with a human tragedy.
"When there wasn't a humanitarian crisis to exploit, a president they didn't like and an election around the corner, Republicans joined Democrats in saying we should treat children at our doorstep in a humane fashion," he said.
Gutierrez said he supports efforts to expedite the screening process and deter the migrants from leaving their home countries. "But," he emphasized, "get their day in court."
CBC leaders said Obama has agreed to meet with them soon to discuss the border crisis, as well as the administration's deportation policy as officials seek ways to make the process more "humane."
— This story was updated at 11:43 a.m.