WASHINGTON – House Republicans reversed course Friday night and passed legislation intended to enhance security along the Mexican border and expedite the return of thousands of unaccompanied children who have poured into the country – just a day after party leaders pulled a bill from the floor in response to a conservative uprising.
The two measures that received approval as lawmakers raced to conclude business to begin the start of a month-long August recess are unlikely to become law. The Democrat-controlled Senate, which failed to pass its own immigration bill on Thursday, already has left town and has displayed little interest in even considering the lower chamber’s proposal. And it is opposed by President Obama.
“We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border,” Obama said. “And we even agree on most of the solutions. But instead of working together — instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress — House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto. They know it.”
Obama accused the GOP of “not even trying to actually solve” the border problem and indicated he would act unilaterally to address the ongoing border crisis.
“This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today — just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month,” he said. “And this is on an issue that they all insisted had to be a top priority.”
The latest version of the border legislation that finally passed Republican muster 223-189 includes $70 million for both the federal government and the states to expend on National Guard assigned along the Rio Grande. Another $400 million goes to the Department of Homeland Security for enhanced border protection while about $200 million is set aside to house undocumented aliens like the unaccompanied children and other “humanitarian assistance.”
It also amends a 2008 law to speed up the deportations of children back to their origination points in Central America. It further prohibits housing the children on military bases if it results in service members being displaced.
One Democrats, Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Texas, sided with the GOP bill while four Republicans voted no – Rep. Paul Broun, of Georgia, Rep. Stephen Fincher, of Tennessee, Rep. Walt Jones, of North Carolina, and Rep. Tom Massie, of Kentucky.
A second measure intended to stop Obama from expanding a program that put an end to deporting some illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. as children – often referred to as DREAMers after the original legislation — also passed.
The price tag comes to about $694 million – $35 million more than called for in the bill yanked off the docket on Thursday. The new measure added additional National Guard funding. And leadership included the bill regarding DREAMer kids to assuage recalcitrant conservatives.
Regardless, the new initiative is a fraction of the $3.7 billion sought by the Obama administration to address the problem.
The debate over border security was spurred by reports that more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the southern border into the U.S, since last October, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The Pew Research Center, basing its findings on government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, determined that the apprehension of unaccompanied minors aged 12 and younger has increased by 117 percent between FY 2013 and the first eight months of the current fiscal year. Apprehension of teenagers during that same period has gone up by 12 percent.
Officials expect the total crossing the border to reach 90,000 by the end of 2014.
There are numerous rationales for the sudden surge. Democrats maintain the children are hoping to escape poverty and violence – Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Republicans assert the Obama administration’s lenient treatment of those crossing the Rio Grande has given those entering reason to believe they can stay once they enter. GOP lawmakers frequently cite a two-year-old program that grants work permits and relief from deportation to more than 500,000 immigrants brought here illegally as children.
Republican lawmakers expressed satisfaction that they can return to their districts during the recess having addressed the border issue – something the Senate failed to do – and providing the party with some election-year protection.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) attempted to place the onus on Democrats.
“If President Obama needs these resources, he will urge Senate Democrats to put politics aside, come back to work, and approve our bill,” Boehner said. “There are also steps the president can take to address this crisis within the law and without further legislative action. Every day the president and his party fail to act is another day this crisis continues.”
House Democrats attempted to waylay action to no avail. Lawmakers attempted without success to introduce a rival measure but could not overcome GOP objections.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the Republican Party “has only one message – deport, deport, deport.”