Don’t leave D.C. without border plan

07/23/2014 8:31 PM

07/23/2014 8:32 PM

More than two weeks after President Barack Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the “urgent humanitarian situation” on the Texas-Mexico border, House Republicans have put forth their own set of proposed solutions to a flood of illegal immigrants.

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger, who leads the House “working group” tasked with outlining her party’s policy recommendations, called the plan “common-sense, compassionate but tough.”

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the major substance of the proposal, aside from immediate care for the surge of mostly Central American minors already in the U.S., would accelerate immigration hearings and repatriation, enhance border security and seek to deter future migrants from making the journey north.

To that end, the group suggests that Congress deploy National Guard troops at the border, strengthen penalties on human smugglers, hire more temporary and permanent immigration judges and change the 2008 anti-trafficking law (the Wilberforce Act) so that unaccompanied minors from noncontiguous countries would be treated the same as those entering the U.S. from Mexico and Canada.

Some of the recommendations overlap with proposals or policies already under discussion.

The legislation introduced last week by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, for example, offers a similar modification to the 2008 law. It would require an immigration judge to determine an immigrant minor’s eligibility for refugee status within 72 hours of a request for a hearing, and ensure that children who are ineligible to stay are quickly sent home and reunited with family.

Their bipartisan bill would also authorize hiring 40 new immigration judges — the same number proposed in the president’s supplemental funding request, and 10 fewer than called for in the funding bill proposed by Senate Democrats on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Perry announced his intent to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the Rio Grande Valley. Unlike his proposal — which sends troops to supplement border enforcement activities — Granger’s plan is for the Guard to provide humanitarian relief, freeing up Border Patrol agents to focus on their primary mission of border security.

The primary problem with Granger’s proposal is no different from the problems with other largely partisan plans — it’s unlikely to be adopted without significant debate and modifications.

Democrats are reticent to make any changes to the 2008 law, despite the administration’s calls for expedited processing of border-crossers. The Senate bill proposed by Sen. Barbara Milkulski, D-Md., is exclusively a funding proposal, offering no modification to immigration legislation.

And Republicans are adamant that they will not support sending additional funds to the border without legislative and policy changes that will require more time to deliberate and achieve compromise.

But the clock is ticking.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress that his agency will run out of money to fund border operations by the middle of next month.

And Congress is scheduled to break for its five-week summer recess Aug. 1, leaving less than a week to act.

Speaking to reporters before the working group recommendations were released, Cornyn lamented, “Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing.”

As it stands, Granger’s proposal is unlikely to alter Congress’ current path.

But inaction increases the odds that the border crisis will deteriorate further in the coming weeks. Resignation and intransigence on either side of the aisle is unacceptable.

The president and some Democrats in the House and Senate initially expressed support for legislative fixes that would expedite immigration hearings, including modification of the Wilberforce Act. Democrats should rally their support for reasonable changes to the law that will improve the process while protecting immigrant rights.

Meanwhile, Republicans need to coalesce behind a spending bill that will keep border operations fully funded through the end of the year.

And if they cannot reach a compromise by the start of their scheduled recess, representatives and senators should stay in Washington until they do.

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