Will House pass 'skinnied down' bill to tackle child immigration crisis?

Texas Sen. John Cronyn expects the House of Representatives to pass a 'skinnied down' emergency funding bill this week to help solve the influx of child immigrants from Central America.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas in June 2014.

If Congress is going to address the child immigration crisis on the US-Mexico border before its five-week summer recess, this would be the last week to act.

On Sunday, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar and Texas Sen. John Cornyn were both on ABC's "This Week," pitching their solution to the child migrant crisis.

Senator Cronyn said he expects the House of Representatives to offer a "skinnied-down" emergency funding bill in response to President Obama's $3.7 billion request to tackle the US-Mexico border crisis.  The House bill is expected to be less than $1 billion.

"Fortunately, it sounds like the House of Representatives is going to move a piece of legislation this week, which would actually offer a solution. And it will include something along the lines Henry and I have proposed," said Cornyn.

Cornyn and Rep. Cuellar have proposed changes to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to speed up the deportation process of minors. When minors come from Canada or Mexico, US border patrol agents are allowed to interview and to determine whether they can stay in the US. The whole process, including deportation, goes quickly because those children can be handed over directly and safely to officials from their home countries.

But most of the influx of tens of thousands of child immigrants in recent months are from Central America, and under the 2008 law, their deportation process is more complicated and time consuming. They are required to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which then releases them to the custody of relatives or other caregivers, as they wait for their cases to come up in immigration court.

As the Christian Science Monitor recently reported:

The arrival of tens of thousands of Central American children has unintentionally caused a huge backlog of cases in the courts. Forty-six percent of the children never show up for their court dates, staying in the US, and critics say this sends an open-door message to others in Central America.

The White House says it wants to change the law so that the secretary of Homeland Security has more discretion in handling these children – most of whom do not qualify to stay, the White House says. But the administration has run into fierce opposition from key Democrats on the Hill and from immigration- and child-advocate groups. They fear changing the law would deprive qualified children of due process.

The Cornyn-Cuellar proposal would change the law so that Central American minors are treated the same as Mexican and Canadian minors are now treated.

But a blog by Lawrence Downes in The New York Times argues "this is a terrible idea."

It starts with handing the responsibility for humanitarian interviews to a law-enforcement agent with a badge and a gun, whose main job is to catch and deport illegal border crossers, and who may not even speak Spanish. This is not the person you want interviewing a traumatized 15-year-old Honduran girl to find out whether the abuse she endured at home or the rape she suffered en route qualifies her for protection in the United States. ... It would be criminal to subject Central American refugees to the same system. They need lawyers and victim advocates, clean, safe shelter and the chance to be heard in court.

Obama met Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, said the US has compassion for the migrant children, but those who do not have a proper claim to remain in the United States will be turned back. At the same time, the regional leaders said the president offered them assurances that the rights of those children would be observed, the Associated Press reported.

But the AP says that Obama played down a proposed pilot program that his administration is considering that would give refugee status to young people from Honduras. White House officials said the plan, which could be expanded to Guatemala and El Salvador, involves screening youths in their home countries to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. Obama said such an effort would affect only a small number of asylum seekers.

He's clearly looking to Congress to respond to his $3.7 billion proposal.

"It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem," Obama said after meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and the three presidents from Central America.

Asked about the opposition from Democrats to his proposed solution, Cornyn said Sunday: "My view is a solution beats no solution every day. And nobody has offered an alternative, so I hope we will act."

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