CAPITOL HILL - Congressional leaders say there is no decision yet on a bill to deal with the influx of migrant children from Central America crossing over the U.S. border with Mexico.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help shelter the children, provide more immigration judges and boost border security, but Republicans have said they will not give the president a “blank check.”
With hundreds of children from Central America coming into the United States each day, Obama is asking Congress to take urgent action. But any such bill would likely originate in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Thursday that House Republicans have not yet decided what kind of bill to put forward.
“We don’t have a bill yet.," he said "We are having a lot of discussions, and we are going to continue those discussions.”
Boehner says he is listening to a task force headed by Republican Representative Kay Granger and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers. Rogers, Boehner and other Republicans have indicated that the House would be unlikely to approve even a much more modest funding bill than the president asked for, unless changes are made to a 2008 anti-human-trafficking law that gives migrant children the right to stay in the United States until they can have a court appearance.
“I don’t know how Congress can send more money to the border to begin to mitigate the problem if you don’t do something about the 08 law that is being abused, and it is being abused,” Boehner said.
Most Democratic lawmakers in Congress are calling for quick approval of the funding, but many strongly oppose any changes to the 2008 law.
“I am rarely surprised around here, but it is stunning to me how the Republicans have tried to politicize this issue - not all of them,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi called on Congress to focus on the best interests of the children, and said many face threats to their lives in their home countries.
Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar and Republican Senator John Cornyn are co-sponsoring a bill that would treat migrant children from Central America the same as children from Mexico, who can now be deported immediately. But it is not clear the new bill will win support.
At a Senate hearing Thursday, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said the problem is bigger than just Congress can handle.
“This is not just an American problem, it is a regional problem," she said. "And I don’ t believe we can solve it on our own, nor should we. I am talking about a regional summit at the highest of levels.”
Bruce Swartz of the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that a regional summit would make sense.
“The Mexican attorney general has suggested that we have a meeting of the attorneys generals of the region to address this issue, and [U.S.] Attorney General [Eric] Holder very much welcomes that opportunity as well,” she said.
The countries involved include the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Both Republicans and Democrats have said they would like to address the border crisis issue before they leave for a month-long break in August, but there are only a few legislative days left to act.