By Mike Lillis - 07/25/14 11:52 AM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday amplified her opposition to changes in deportation law as part of a border funding bill, saying it would be misguided to consider immigration reforms as part of the emergency response to the crisis.
"There's no reason why they have to be tied," she added, "and I hope that the Republicans will come to that conclusion."
GOP leaders have insisted that any emergency funding sent to the border be accompanied by changes to a 2008 anti-human trafficking law — the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — to empower the Obama administration to deport the child migrants more quickly.
"Frankly, it is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wrote in a July 23 letter to Obama.
Pelosi, who earlier this month had said tweaks to the law were "not a deal breaker," is now adamantly opposed to that strategy.
"I very firmly believe it would be a mistake for us to do immigration law in a supplemental bill," she said Friday. "You're not supposed to be legislating on an appropriations bill."
Complicating the issue for the Democrats, Obama has asked Congress for "more flexibility" to deport the new arrivals, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said this week that the administration has "asked … for a change in the law and we’re in active discussions with Congress right now about doing that."
Johnson did not say what changes the administration wants, and Obama's official request for border funding did not mention the 2008 law — an exclusion that GOP leaders have labeled a “flip-flop" by Obama.
Pelosi said she is unaware of what changes the administration is seeking, but emphasized that those reforms should be managed separately from the supplemental funding bill.
"I do not think that these children should be held hostage to a discussion that should be taking place over here [in Congress]," she said. "Whatever [Johnson] is suggesting is properly discussed in the context of immigration law."
As Pelosi was speaking, House Republicans were huddled nearby in the Capitol to discuss their strategy on the border crisis. Emerging from that meeting, GOP leaders said they plan to vote on a funding package before the August recess, as a number of members of the conference are wary of returning to their districts without having taken action on legislation.
The Republicans are still working on the language, but emphasized that their funding levels will be much lower than Obama and Senate Democrats have proposed. It also appears certain their package will change the 2008 law to expedite deportations.
Pelosi was quick to note that the anti-trafficking law was designed to protect children worldwide. Changing the rules to address the border crisis, she warned, could harm kids arriving from countries far removed from North America.
"It relates not just to Central America, it relates to the American position on refugees and asylum seekers from around the world," she said. "Do we want to check out of that and say to other countries, 'You take them'?"
Still, the Democratic leader said she was hopeful Congress can come together in the four legislative days left before the recess to pass a bill. Meanwhile, she said she's still waiting to see one.
"We're waiting to see what [Republicans] will put forth," she said. "What can they pass in their own caucus?"