WASHINGTON - Prospects for action on the U.S.-Mexico border crisis faded Thursday as lawmakers traded accusations rather than solutions, raising chances that Congress will go into its summer recess without doing anything about the tens of thousands of migrant children streaming into South Texas.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced plans to try to cancel out President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy that granted work permits to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought illegally to the country as youths, saying it was causing the crisis — something the administration disputed. "The problem will not be solved until we make clear that those coming here illegally will not be granted amnesty," Cruz declared.
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, declared himself opposed to legal changes to speed return of the migrant children to Central America more quickly. Republicans have demanded the changes as the price for approving any part of Obama's $3.7 billion emergency spending request for the border.
Taken together, the developments suggested lawmakers were hardening their positions, leading House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to downgrade hopes for a solution.
"I don't have as much optimism as I'd like to have," said Boehner, a Republican. With just weeks until Congress' August recess, a working group the speaker convened to develop solutions to the problem failed once again to release its report Thursday, after initially promising to do so as early as Tuesday.
Even so, lawmakers in both parties expressed a desire to act amid signs that the public is demanding a resolution. One in six people now call immigration the most pressing problem facing the U.S., according to a new Gallup Poll — up dramatically just since last month, when only 5 per cent said immigration topped their list of concerns.
More than 57,000 children have arrived since fall, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Obama administration officials point to brutal gang violence in some areas of Central America as the cause, as well as efforts by the children to reunite with family members. They also say smugglers are exploiting U.S. policies that, in practice, allow Central American kids to stay for years or indefinitely once they arrive.
Thomas A. Shannon Jr., a counsellor at the State Department, pointed to a 2008 trafficking victims law signed by George W. Bush that guarantees hearings to young people arriving here from Central America. It can allow them to stay here for years as their cases progress slowly through the overburdened immigration court system.
Republicans want to change that law so Central American kids are treated the same as Mexicans, who can be turned around at the border quickly unless they can convince Border Patrol agents they merit further screening. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told senators at a private briefing this week that he supports such a change, but Democratic congressional opposition has hardened amid fierce lobbying by immigration advocates who contend it would amount to violating the children's due process and sending them home to be abused or killed.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report
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