By Alexander Bolton - 07/10/14 02:02 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday the emergency spending bill addressing the surge of immigrants on the southwestern border should not include policy changes favored by Republicans.
Reid says the primary goal of the bill is to give more resources to the Obama administration to combat human traffickers and drug cartels that have smuggled thousands of children into the United States.
President Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with a flood of nearly 300,000 immigrants illegally crossing the border in recent months, including more than 50,000 children.
Congressional Republicans have called for pairing the emergency spending with changes to a 2008 human trafficking law that has been blamed for the influx of children. They want to change the law to allow homeland security officials to quickly deport immigrants captured at the border.
The White House has also asked Congress for expanded authority to deport young immigrants entering the country more quickly but did not include that in its supplemental spending bill request.
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President George W. Bush, gave new protections to minors who come by themselves to the country illegally and are not from Canada or Mexico. Among the protections is an automatic hearing to receive asylum in the United States.
Most of the surge of young immigrants not crossing the border are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. They cannot be immediately deported under the terms of the 2008 law.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has signaled support for changing the 2008 law to shorten the stays of children from countries that don't border the U.S.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday said Congress should not grant Obama money for the border emergency without insisting on policy changes.
“What he appears to be asking for is a blank check, one that would allow him to sustain his current failed policy,” McConnell said on the floor.
“He led Americans to believe that the problem can be solved if only Congress would pass his last-minute request,” he added. “But it’s not that simple. Much more needs to be done, and the president knows it.”
The White House has not offered specifics on how it would change that law, though Obama offered support for the concept during comments in Dallas on Wednesday night.
Obama said Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) had relayed his concerns that young immigrants from Central American countries cannot be sent back to their home countries more quickly.
“I indicated to him that part of what we're looking in the supplemental is some flexibility in terms of being able to preserve the due process rights of individuals who come in, but also to make sure that we’re sending a strong signal that they can’t simply show up at the border and automatically assume that they’re going to be absorbed,” Obama said.
Democrats on Tuesday voiced concerns about the changes, highlighting tensions over that request, which despite Obama’s comments is not technically a part of the administration’s supplemental request.
Reid said he would not necessarily block attempts to change the 2008 law with a policy rider attached to the emergency spending package.
“I’m not going to block anything. Let’s see what comes to the floor. I told you what my preference is,” he said. “I think there are people making a lot of excuses, as they’ve done for a year, to do something productive.”
Reid said the crisis would not have occurred if the House had passed the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, which included substantial funding increases for border security.