By Peter Schroeder - 07/23/14 10:08 AM EDT
House Republicans are considering a plan that would deploy the National Guard to the border, change trafficking laws and beef up judicial and law enforcement resources in response to the surge of child migrants into the United States.
A GOP working group on border issues briefed members Wednesday on its policy recommendations for the emergency funding bill, which lawmakers are scrambling to finish before they leave town for a five-week summer recess.
Republicans were adamant that policy changes must be part of the spending package, setting up a standoff with Democrats who have declared them a non-starter.
House Republicans are putting the finishing touches on a $1.5 billion border bill that is fully offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. The amount is less than half of the $3.7 billion that President Obama requested.
Senate Democrats are working on a rival bill that would provide $2.7 billion in emergency funding.
The recommendations from the GOP working group, which was led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), include changes to a 2008 human trafficking law to ensure that Central American children who do not wish to return to their country receive an expedited immigration hearing within a week of being seen by child welfare officials.
While the White House initially signaled an openness to tweaks in that law, Democrats came out staunchly against them, arguing the matter should be dealt with separately.
“The Democrats have children to protect and the Republicans have a crisis to exploit,” Rep. Luis Guitérrez (D-Ill.), an opponent of the policy changes, said Wednesday.
“Almost every Democrat I talk to says we should hold the line on the laws passed to protect children from sex-trafficking and smugglers. The Republicans seem to be divided between the ones who don’t think the money is necessary, the ones who want to weaken laws protecting children and the ones who want to deport all of the dreamers and other undocumented immigrants before we do anything else.”
The Senate plan is not expected to include changes to the 2008 law, but Republicans on Wednesday argued the policy changes are the central reason for passing a bill.
Several Republicans flatly rejected moving additional funding for the border without policy changes.
“I’m not voting for money with no solutions attached,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “That’s a guarantee that you will lose the majority of our conference.”
The GOP plan would send the National Guard to the border to help care for the more than 50,000 children who have illegally come over the border in recent months.
Granger said the recommendations are more of an outline than fleshed out legislation. The group does not specify how many troops should be sent to the border, for instance.
She said discussions about the recommendations would continue as the GOP works to bring a single package to the floor sometime next week.
A key question surrounding the GOP proposal is whether the party will be able to unite and pass it without significant Democratic support.
While a handful of centrist Democrats have backed changes to the 2008 law, House Democratic leaders have said their inclusion could sink the package.
“Dems in border states … obviously are paying attention back home. They will be supportive of that,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), another working group member. “I think that’s going to play well across the aisle with the border state Democrats.”
Still, conservative Republicans remain wary about giving additional money to Obama, even if it’s a significantly smaller amount than he had requested.
On the spending side, the fact that appropriators tracked down enough unspent money across the federal government to offset its costs could neutralize concerns from fiscal hawks in the conference.
Some Republicans warned that if conservatives balk at the funding and the House fails to act, they could expose themselves to a month of political battering from the White House.
“It’s going to be hard to say, ‘I’m a conservative, but I’m going to vote no to the type of legislation that was outlined today,’” he added.
The House proposal would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish a strategy to gain “operational control of the border.” It would also create a third-party commission to set up metrics to measure progress on tightening up security.
To help speed along the processing of immigration cases, Granger’s plan would deploy additional judges. The report calls on Congress to revisit laws that allow immigrants to claim a “credible fear of persecution” in an effort to stay in the U.S., warning of fraud in the system. Criminals and gang members would not be permitted to receive asylum under the plan.
The working group also wants to see the U.S. ramp up its efforts in Central American nations to try to stamp out illegal immigration at its source. The suggested border security and repatriation centers could be established in nations such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The group also wants to see the U.S. launch “aggressive messaging campaigns” in those nations to dispel the idea that people, especially children, can remain in the U.S. if they make it over the border, and to emphasize the danger and legal risks the journey entails.
Peter Sullivan and Cristina Marcos contributed.