Recess looming, lawmakers appear stuck on Obama’s immigration funding request

BY Rachel Wellford  July 22, 2014 at 4:38 PM EST
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection placement center in Nogales, Arizona.  Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection placement center in Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Ross D. Franklin-Pool/Getty Images

The president’s $3.7 billion border request appears stuck in Congress, with just nine days before August recess. And the Congressional leadership’s confidence that something will get done before that deadline is dwindling.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed doubt that anything would move forward before the recess during a speech Monday afternoon. Reid criticized the Republican response and later tweeted:

Speaker John Boehner told reporters last Thursday he is doubtful Congress will be able to fulfill President Barack Obama’s funding request before the summer break. “I would certainly hope so, but I don’t have as much optimism as I would like to have.” Boehner added, “There’s just been some comments made by our colleagues across the aisle that are going to make this much more difficult to deal with.”

The sticking point still appears to be the 2008 child-trafficking law that requires immigrant children go through the U.S. immigration courts. Republicans want to significantly alter the law. But for many Democrats, that is a nonstarter. Without Democratic votes in the House, passing something that gives the president more money — even if the 2008 law is amended — would be tough sledding for House Speaker John Boehner.

Meanwhile in Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, a possible 2016 contender, plans to send 1,000 Texas National Guard members to the border — despite the children mostly turning themselves in to authorities. “There can be no national security without border security,” said Perry boasted at a news conference Monday afternoon, “and Texans have paid too high a price for the federal government’s failure to secure our border.”

The White House, for its part, tried Monday to change the narrative of the border being overrun with unaccompanied minors, noting in a readout of a meeting with the president’s Homeland Security Council that “preliminary data show that average daily apprehensions of unaccompanied children by the Customs and Border Patrol have dropped by about half from June to July.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest earlier Monday told reporters that Border Patrol apprehended an average of 355 unaccompanied children each day across the month of June in the Rio Grande Valley. In the first two weeks of July, the number was down to an average of 150.

But Earnest was on the defensive regarding the administration’s handling of the crisis. A Washington Post article charged the administration had been warned of the impending crisis for a year.

Earnest dismissed the reporting as “based entirely on anonymous sourcing” and defended the administration’s handling: “There were a number of steps that were taken by this administration in the months before, or at least in the weeks before, this became the media sensation.”

President Obama will meet Friday with leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the countries from which most of the children are arriving in the U.S.

In the 14 days following President Obama’s request of $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the mass influx of migrants, many lawmakers and political pundits have offered up their two cents on immigration.

Last week alone, we saw bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, to expedite the removal of children who cross the border; a proposal from Republican Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake that would aid the deportation of migrant children by employing more immigration judges; and two separate proposals from Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, and Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., that lean further right than some of their Republican colleagues would like. Sen. David Vitter jointly introduced legislation with his fellow Louisiana Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy late Friday that, among other stipulations, requires mandatory detention of all unaccompanied minors upon apprehension by border agents and extends the bar for re-entering the country for all illegal immigrants to 10 years.

There are even more proposals to come. Members of the House and Senate have offered their input during floor speeches, town hall meetings and media interviews. A House GOP working group led by Texas Rep. Kay Granger is set to submit its proposals to House leadership soon. A major change included in the group’s guidelines is the dismantling of the “catch and release” system for unaccompanied minors.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wants to go a step further by completely ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which he says will send the people of Central America a message: “making clear that we won’t give amnesty to those who are here illegally.”

Amidst the flurry of legislative proposals and cable news hits, one fact remains: it is unlikely that anything will happen before lawmakers leave for the summer recess. The majority of Democrats continue to support Mr. Obama’s funding request and want to keep the 2008 law that gives child immigrants additional protection intact. But with the House only meeting for seven more days before the recess, the outlook for action looks grim.