A group of House Republicans tasked with finding a solution to the flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border is calling for the deployment of National Guard troops expedited deportations of Central American children.
"Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children and it has remained a top priority throughout this process. In our personal meetings with the Presidents of Honduras and Guatemala they both stated that they wanted their children back, and we believe that is in the best interest of all the countries involved in this crisis," said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who headed the working group and briefed her fellow Republicans Wednesday morning.
The recommendations represent a compilation of several smaller bills proposed by members of the group. In addition to deploying National Guard troops - a move House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called for in recent weeks - the group recommends sending additional immigration judges to expedite hearings for asylum claims, cracking down on fraud in those claims, deploying "aggressive messaging campaigns" in the countries the children are leaving to warn them against the dangers of coming to the U.S. illegally, and increasing penalties on human smuggling organizations. Other recommendations deal with increasing security at the U.S.-Mexico border and speeding up the repatriation of those who are deported.
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The recommendation that is likely to be met with the most Democratic resistance is a change to a 2008 anti-trafficking law that prevents the speedy deportation of unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The working group wants to alter the law to treat all minors the way children from Mexico are currently handled: a quick deportation without a hearing unless they wish to make an appeal to stay before an immigration judge. The children would remain in Health and Human Services (HHS) custody for no more than seven days while awaiting an expedited hearing.
Granger's statement about the proposed change reflects the fact that Democratic leaders initially remained open to tweaking the 2008 law.
"The recommendation to amend the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 is something both parties agree on and modifications to the law can be done to expedite the process while ensuring proper protections are in place for the children who need them," she said.
Boehner sent President Obama a letter Wednesday highlighting past statements in which the president had requested more flexibility for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson to move children through the system more quickly. Now, he says the president has remained silent on that issue with the rise in Democratic opposition.
"Frankly, it is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law," Boehner said. "I hope you will take the earliest possible opportunity to voice your continued support for common-sense efforts to stem the flow of children to our border."
In the wake of an outcry from some Democrats, including many members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., now say any changes to the law would violate childrens' due process and will not get their support. A emergency spending bill authored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., does not make any changes to the law.
Still undecided is how much money Congress will give President Obama in response to his request for $3.7 billion to handle the crisis. Mikulski's bill offers significantly less - $2.73 billion - and the House GOP is also expected to offer less money than the president requested, but has not settled on an exact figure.
Boehner has repeatedly indicated that his members' support for emergency funding hinges on a change to the 2008 law.
"What the president's asking for is a blank check. He wants us to just throw more money at the problem without doing anything to solve the problem," Boehner told reporters Wednesday. "Without trying to fix the problem don't know how we actually are in a position to give the president any more money."
Johnson said Tuesday that the enforcement agencies within DHS will run out of money between mid-August and mid-September if there is no infusion of cash from Congress.