Dem Rep. Cuellar seeks meeting with Obama on border crisis

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A conservative-leaning Texas Democrat is seeking a meeting with President Obama in search of a bipartisan solution to the southern border crisis.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Blue Dog from a Texas border district, had rankled many in his party this month when he was the only Democrat to back the Republicans' $694 million border package, including language making it easier to deport the Central American migrant children who have crossed into the United States unaccompanied this year.

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The measure passed the House, but is heading nowhere in the face of Democratic opposition in the Senate and a veto threat from the White House, which warned that the bill "will undercut due process for vulnerable children."

In a letter to the president, Cuellar said it's "imperative" that the sides come to a compromise to address the crisis, and he's urging a sit-down between Obama and lawmakers from both parties to do just that.

"It is time for us to put partisan politics aside, lead on this issue, and find solutions that are acceptable to both sides of the aisle," Cuellar wrote on Aug. 8. "Doing nothing is not an option."

A central sticking point in the debate has been a 2008 human trafficking law that prohibits authorities from quickly deporting unaccompanied children arriving from countries other than Mexico or Canada. Instead, those children must go through certain legal screenings designed to ensure they aren't returned to dangerous conditions.

Along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Cuellar has sponsored legislation to tweak that law so that some of those kids can return home to their families voluntarily — a notion that's anathema to many Democrats, who fear that scaling back the legal protections would leave those children at risk.

Cuellar is quick to note that top administration officials — including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson — have been pushing for changes in the 2008 law to help expedite the deportations. He suggested the administration caved to Democratic pressure in threatening a veto. 

"Shifts in the conversation about how to address this crisis have had a real impact on the success of any solution being considered and agreed upon," Cuellar said.

He cited a recent Washington Post editorial arguing that "Obama’s own vacillations [over the 2008 law] have not helped cope with the crisis."

The debate over the child migrant wave has boosted Cuellar's national profile, but also placed him on something of an island among fellow Democrats, as many in the caucus felt his proposal eroded legal protections currently available to the migrant kids. Nowhere was the relationship more strained than in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where every other member was a sharp critic of his proposal.

"Henry Cuellar does not represent the Congressional Hispanic Caucus," CHC Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) said tersely last month.

Undeterred, Cuellar said he's reached out to fellow Democrats in search of ways to win more bipartisan support for his bill, but lamented that he hasn't found any interest in his own party.

"Throughout the process of drafting my legislative proposal to address the loophole created by the 2008 law that smugglers have taken advantage of, I reached out to my Democratic colleagues in opposition to sit down with me and provide their input so that we could come up with a solution," he wrote in the Aug. 8 letter. "To this day I have yet to hear anyone offer one." 

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