With House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., shooting down a bipartisan bill to address the crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border Wednesday, it looks increasingly likely Congress might wind up at an impasse just before their five-week summer recess.
Until now, Pelosi had said that potential changes to a 2008 law that prevents speedy deportations of unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico and Canada was not a "deal breaker" for Democrats. That's what two Texas lawmakers, Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, are aiming to do with their bill that would mandate the same treatment for all unaccompanied children apprehended at the border: a quick return to their home countries without going through the immigration system, or a speedy trip through U.S. immigration courts that would take less than two weeks to decide whether they have a valid claim to remain in the U.S.
"I do think the bill that was introduced is exactly the wrong way to go," Pelosi told the New York Times Wednesday. "Is the only immigration bill we're going to have one that hurts children?"
Her spokesman, Drew Hamill, later added that the only acceptable change to the 2008 law would be to handle Mexican children the way Central American children are processed now, requiring that they have the chance to appear before an immigration judge before they can be put into deportation proceedings.
Reid similarly dismissed the Cornyn-Cuellar bill as "too broad" Tuesday. On Wednesday - when the administration will brief senators on President Obama's $3.7 billion funding request to deal with the border crisis - Reid promised that Democrats will come up with legislation "that we feel should move forward quickly." Senate Democrats oppose the major policy changes in the Cornyn-Cuellar proposal that would be attached to any emergency supplemental funding.
Meanwhile, Republicans are expected to offer Mr. Obama less than what he has requested to expand detention and prosecution and repatriation of the children, care for the ones who remain in the U.S., and send more immigration judges to the border.
Divided by whether or not there should be changes to the 2008 anti-trafficking law - Democrats say absolutely no, Republicans say absolutely yes - it is unclear how the two parties will reconcile their differences and respond to the crisis.
Mr. Obama is also in the tricky situation of trying to marshal necessary Republican support for the additional funds the executive branch needs to respond to the crisis without alienating Democrats. He met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Wednesday afternoon, most of whom adamantly oppose any move that would speed deportations of the children arriving at the border.
Other Democrats have suggested the administration has failed a responsibility to treat the children, many of whom are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, as refugees. Gov. Martin O'Malley, D-Md., told reporters last week that the government would "summarily send children to death" by deporting them, prompting an angry call from White House Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Muñoz, according to the Washington Post. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to discuss the call.
Pressed on whether the children are refugees, Earnest said, "In the view of this White House, an immigration judge should make the determination about whether someone qualifies for refugee status."