Congress far apart on border crisis plan as summer recess looms

Detainees are escorted to an area to make phone calls as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Ariz. Pool, Getty Images

With just eight working days left before Congress breaks for its five-week summer recess, the House and Senate continue to barrel down separate paths in their response to the influx of unaccompanied Central American children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans have offered several bills that tweak a 2008 anti-trafficking law that makes it more difficult to quickly deport children from countries other than Mexico and Canada. They say changing the law to speed the quick removal of all children who don't have legitimate claims to stay is key to reducing the number of children who attempt to enter the U.S.

House Republicans haven't settled on one bill but has several proposals from members taking part in a working group studying the border crisis. The head of the working group, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is set to brief her fellow House Republicans Wednesday.

But Democrats have rejected any changes to the 2008 law, arguing it will violate due process for the children arriving at the border. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday that the slew of different GOP proposals was a sign that "Republicans can't agree on what they want."

"The Democrats aren't going to support some of their crazy ideas, and the Republicans can't agree which crazy idea they want to put forward," he said.

Reid indicated Democrats will line up behind a plan from Senate Appropriations chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who plans to introduce an emergency supplemental funding bill Wednesday that will provide $2.73 billion to deal with the crisis, $1 billion less than President Obama's initial request.

"I believe this bill provides the most effective path forward to meet our nation's obligation to protect the safety and health of the children seeking refuge, speed determination of their asylum status, and create a strategy to go after the smugglers, crime, and violence that are driving children and families from their home countries," Mikulski said in a statement.

Republicans have also indicated they don't want to give Mr. Obama such a large sum to deal with the crisis, but have not yet committed to a specific amount.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned Tuesday that immigration control agencies will run out of money to confront the crisis if Congress fails to act by September. He also said that there had been a decline in the number of immigrants arriving at the southern border in the last four to six weeks, though he cautioned that could be merely a seasonal anomaly.

"We are not declaring victory. This could be seasonal, but the numbers are dropping," Johnson said. "Nevertheless the recent rise in illegal migration requires a sustained aggressive campaign by our government."

Johnson otherwise indicated that the Department of Homeland Security had greatly sped up the process of repatriating adult border crossers. The time to return adults to their home countries has dropped from 33 to four days, and the department is now returning six to 10 planeloads of adult border crossers home from the Rio Grande Valley per week. DHS also began repatriating adults with children last week.

Most of the children will also not qualify for humanitarian relief and be allowed to stay in the U.S., Johnson said.

He touted the agency's recent success in targeting smuggling organizations. A 60-person investigative team sent to assist with border control has made 192 arrests, seized about 28 vehicles and have interrupted the money flow between child smugglers, he said.

A new Pew Research Center analysis released Tuesday showed that there has been a huge spike in the number of apprehended children ages 12 and younger. The previously-unreleased government data they studied showed a 117 percent increase in unaccompanied children 12 and under apprehended at the border this year over last year. The growth among teenagers ages 13 to 17 has been just 12 percent.

Still, the majority of crossers are teens: nine out of every 10 children apprehended at the border in 2013 was a teenager, and they comprised 84 percent of apprehensions in the first eight months of fiscal year 2014.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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