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While Congress lags, what happens next for people caught entering the U.S. illegally?

August 2, 2014 at 6:09 PM EST
The fate of tens of thousands of people, many of them children, who entered the United States illegally remains unresolved. The Republican-led House passed a measure to speed deportations, but the Democrat-led Senate has yet to take up the bill. Roll Call's Christina Bellantoni joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to discuss what happens next.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The fate of tens of thousands of people, many of them children, who entered the United States illegally remains unresolved tonight. Before adjourning late last night the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a measure that would speed deportations, but the Democrat-led Senate did not take up the bill before leaving for the summer recess and the House measure has little chance of success there.

What comes next? For more we’re joined tonight from Washington by Christina Bellantoni. She is Editor in Chief at Roll Call. So what happens next? For the next five weeks as Congress is in recess, do all of these people who are in detention centers now just stay there?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: No, there’s not a limbo. The president had the news conference yesterday where he said he would be forced to take matters in his own hands even though Congress has been critical of him doing so on other matters including immigration.

So what the White House told me this morning, an administration official said that they’re going to take $405 million, that’s much, much less than the House approved and less than the president has initially asked for. And they are going to transfer that down to help ease either deportation proceedings or have facilities down at the border for housing these child migrants or ways that they could speed up some of the processes or make it a bit more smoothly.

But that money is coming from other places. They are taking the majority of it, $270 million from federal emergency management funds that would deal with any sort of disaster relief. And you might recall that when the president first asked Congress for this emergency spending more than a month ago, he actually included a lot of money for wildfire relief, and so in addition to not having that funding put in place they are taking money from other disasters.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So this becomes a source of contention for states that might be, say, for example, in hurricane alley, saying wait a minute, some of our funds might be diverted to deal with this crisis in the border states in the south.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Sure, or tornadoes or a drought, which is a big  issue in Texas. So it allows for some money to go down to help Texas National Guard to alleviate some of the issues. It’s also important to point out that some of the numbers that we’re see coming across the border, we get a little bit of a delay in that reporting, and the crossing by child migrants are actually down because it’s the hot summer month, and so you’re seeing fewer and fewer come across the border. The numbers are still far up from previous years, but they are down over recent months, but that doesn’t mean that the problem is going to go away.

And when Congress comes back in September, the Senate will probably easily dispatch the House’s bill, but we don’t know for sure how that’s going to play out. They might come up with some sort of compromise middle ground and the president will have already of transferred that money. So they could end up funding it more close to the level that he initially asked for.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And how much of this plays into the re-election campaigns of some of the members of Congress that are heading back, just to get this particular piece of legislation through where it is now?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: That’s a central question that our journalists at Roll Call are looking into. Where talking to members back home in their districts. What are they hearing from their constituents? Are they paying attention to this issue? Do they care? Meanwhile, you’ve got a lot of foreign policy crises that is also generating a lot of attention and concern among Americans. It’s less than 100 days from the midterm elections.

But the other element that’s playing out here is that immigration advocates are really stepping up pressure on the White House, urging them to take even broader action when it comes to deferred action for so called “dreamers.”

And so the president has held some meetings, these immigration advocates have said it sounds as if he might even be willing to expand what it did in 2012 through executive action. So, those issues are playing out at the exact same time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Christina Bellantoni from Roll Call, joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI: Thank you.