CAPITOL HILL - Bipartisan support appears to be growing on Capitol Hill to promptly address a growing immigration crisis along the southern U.S. border. Senate lawmakers agree a surge of undocumented underage arrivals must end, but the precise remedy and funding required to achieve it remain a point of contention.
Bipartisanship and swift action are rarities in Congress, which is considering a request from President Barack Obama for nearly $4 billion to care for and process tens of thousands of undocumented minors, and to boost federal resources along the 3,200-kilometer U.S.-Mexico border.
Republicans control the House of Representatives and can block or delay votes in the Senate; but, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, had this to say when asked if Congress should act before a month-long August recess.
“I hope so, because I think the humanitarian needs are great,” he said.
That view is echoed by Democratic Senator Tom Carper, who says, “It is something we should do before the August recess.”
Both senators say a 2008 law signed by then-president George W. Bush assuring immigration hearings for most underage arrivals is untenable, given the sheer number of minors arriving from primarily Central American nations. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham agrees.
He says, “The 2008 law was designed to deal with children from China and other places that come here as sex slaves, to make sure we do not send them right back [to their countries of origin]. Clearly, the immigrants coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are of the belief that if you can get here, you can stay.”
One proposal put forth by a Republican senator and a Democratic House member would drastically limit the time frame for an undocumented minor to make a case to remain in the United States as a refugee.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez fears such a change would cause untold numbers of new arrivals with legitimate immigration claims to be denied justice.
“You cannot, in 72 hours, make a case that your father got murdered in front of you," he said. "You cannot make a case that a gang told you, ‘Join us or die’ if you do not have the time to produce documents, affidavits, certificates, or whatnot.”
Other points of disagreement concern precisely how much money should be spent for what purpose. Graham said funds are needed to address humanitarian needs at the border, but added that he will not vote to approve billions of dollars until policy concerns are addressed.
Carper fears no U.S. solution will work so long as violence and poverty remain endemic in Central America.
Carper said, “Why are parents [in Central America] willing to send 8-, 9-, 10-year-old unaccompanied children 1,500 miles into a foreign country? The reason why is the lives of those families in Honduras, many of them, are hell holes. And so they are voting with their feet.”
For now, Obama and members of his Cabinet are stressing that undocumented minors have no automatic right to remain in the United States, and hoping the message is heard in Central America. Administration critics say Obama is at least partly to blame for the border crisis, given his recently stated intention to do what he can to address America’s immigration challenges though executive action.