WASHINGTON - This week is Congress’ last chance to respond to a surge of undocumented children arriving at America’s southern border before U.S. lawmakers leave town for a five-week recess. At issue is how much money to appropriate to house and process the juveniles, and whether to alter a 2008 law that entitles non-Mexican arrivals to an immigration hearing.
With chaos continuing at the U.S.-Mexico border and protests cropping up across the United States, a politically-divided Congress ponders what, if anything, to do.
Republicans say some of the funds requested by President Barack Obama are needed to deal with the crisis, but only if accompanied by legal reform. Senator John Cornyn says the tide needs to be stemmed in an orderly fashion.
“We need to have immigration laws that protect these children and all of us. And it does not mean that anybody and everybody under any circumstances can qualify to come to the United States and stay. That is simply an invitation to chaos," says Cornyn.
Cornyn co-authored a bill that would limit the ability of Central American immigrants to petition for refugee status, and speed their deportation to their home countries. Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, worry such a change would punish asylum-seekers with legitimate claims.
“It relates not just to Central America. It relates to the American position on refugees and asylum-seekers around the world. Do we want to check out of that and say to other countries, ‘You take them, but do not talk to us about that?’” – asked Pelosi.
President Obama is urging Congress to act.
“It is my hope that Speaker [John] Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem,” said Obama.
Speaker Boehner says an inconsistent message from the White House is part of the problem.
“The administration started earlier this month by signaling some openness to changes in the 2008 law to accelerate the process of returning these children to their home countries. Now, the president and his team have apparently flip-flopped,” said Boehner.
Three Central American leaders visited Washington last week, and pleaded for humane treatment of their citizens who flee to the United States. One of them was President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, who called for compassion.
“Our children should be seen for what they are: vulnerable human beings. They have rights, and we want them to be respected,” said Hernandez.
The pace of new arrivals appears to have diminished in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Texas Governor Rick Perry is taking matters into his own hands by dispatching National Guard troops to his state’s border with Mexico.