WASHINGTON - Republicans want to slash President Barack Obama's emergency spending request for the U.S.-Mexico border, speed young migrants back home to Central America and send in the National Guard.
Unaccompanied children and teens have been showing up by the tens of thousands, putting the Republican-led House of Representatives on a collision course with the Democratic-run Senate and increasing the likelihood that congressional efforts to address the crisis will end in stalemate.
The immigration issue is increasingly sensitive as many in Congress face elections in November to keep their seats.
"Without trying to fix the problem, I don't know how we actually are in a position to give the president any more money," said House Speaker John Boehner, shortly after lawmakers reviewed steps to respond to the influx of children across the Rio Grande river that borders the U.S. and Mexico.
More than 57,000 minors have arrived since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are pleading for action, saying overstressed border and immigration agencies will run out of money in the next two months.
It was not clear if the House would be able to approve the proposal rolled out Wednesday by a working group Boehner established. Conservative lawmakers voiced objections.
Several Republican lawmakers said the House plan would cost about $1.5 billion, compared to Obama's original $3.7 billion request for more immigration judges, detention facilities and other resources to deal with unaccompanied kids.
A plan by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski would cost $2.7 billion.
But the biggest conflict between the House and Senate is not over costs, but policy.
Mikulski, a Democrat, said she was omitting from her legislation any changes to a 2008 trafficking victims law that Republicans say has contributed to the crisis by allowing Central American youths to stay in the United States indefinitely while awaiting court dates.
The 2008 law guarantees them judicial hearings, which in practice allows them to stay in this country for years — before any deportation can be carried out — because of major backlogs in the immigration court system.
Republicans want the law changed so that unaccompanied Central American children can be treated like those from Mexico, who can be sent back by Border Patrol agents unless they can demonstrate a fear of return that necessitates further screening. Republicans say that's the only way to send a message to parents in the Central American nations that there's no point in sending their children on the arduous journey north.
Republicans are demanding changes in the 2008 law as the price for approving any money for the crisis.
White House officials have indicated support for such changes but have sent mixed signals, under pressure from immigration advocates who say they would amount to sending kids fleeing vicious gang violence back home to their deaths.
Little time remains to resolve the stalemate before Congress' annual August recess.
Polls suggest the public is paying attention and demanding a solution, but lawmakers could not say where a compromise might lie.
© Coast Reporter