GOP border bill focused on security

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Two-thirds of the House GOP’s $659 million border bill would boost security and process immigrants, while the other third would go toward humanitarian assistance.

Republicans released text of the bill Tuesday after a meeting of the conference. A vote is expected Thursday.

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The chief author of the bill hailed the legislation but said the administration must implement the changes to solve the problems at the border, where a wave of child immigrants largely from Central America have overwhelmed authorities.

“The funding included in the bill today will provide the tools necessary for our agency personnel to ensure immediate needs are met, but the administration must implement changes to their border policies and fully enforce existing immigration law if we are to adequately address this crisis,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said “This is a good bill, and I urge its swift passage in both the House and Senate before Congress adjourns for the August recess.”

The measure is significantly smaller than both the $3.7 billion President Obama requested and the $1.5 billion House Republicans originally considered.

While most of the White House’s proposal would have gone toward humanitarian assistance, the GOP bill is security heavy and includes several policy changes sought by Republicans but strongly opposed by most Democrats.

The GOP bill would set aside $405 million for the Department of Homeland Security to boost border security and law enforcement. The vast bulk of that amount — $334 million — would go to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Administration officials have warned that ICE could run out of funds by mid-August without an emergency infusion.

Another $71 million would go to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to boost processing detention and transportation of migrants. Southwest border states would also be given the power under the bill to reallocate existing grant funds to address the influx of immigrants.

Another $22 million would be aimed at speeding up the legal processing of immigrants, by hiring new temporary judges, and outfitting courtrooms nationwide with videoconference technology so immigration trials can be processed remotely.

The National Guard’s presence at the border would get a boost under the bill, with another $35 million.

On the humanitarian side, the Department of Health and Human Services would receive $197 million under the GOP bill that could be used for more temporary housing and other assistance like meals, medical care and education.

In addition, existing foreign aid to the nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador would be reworked under the bill to ensure those nations are working to keep their citizens within their borders. Roughly $40 million in foreign aid would be reclassified as repatriation assistance for those nations, requiring them to use the money to help process and reintegrate citizens returned to their home nations.

The cost of the legislation is offset by cutting unused excess funds from several government agencies, including the Justice, Defense, and State departments.

The measure would include many of the recommendations outlined by the House GOP border security working group.

Chief among them is a change to a 2008 human trafficking law that would treat all children apprehended at the border in the same manner. All children who do not want to be repatriated would be in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services while awaiting a hearing. That hearing would have to take place within seven days after a child immigrant undergoes a welfare screening.

Most Democrats have said they would oppose any changes to that law, particularly within the context of an emergency spending bill.

Additionally, the bill would prohibit criminals with drug-related offenses punishable by more than a year of prison from applying for asylum.

Another recommendation from the border working group would allow Customs and Border Patrol agents to access federal land along the southern border to go after immigrants traveling in the area. However, Democrats have dismissed the proposal as an excuse to loosen environmental regulations.

The measure also includes “sense of Congress” language stating that the Pentagon should not house immigrants at military installations unless it can certify they won't interfere with defense activities.

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