WASHINGTON – Democratic opposition increased Wednesday to legal changes that would speed removals of young Central American migrants, jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s call for $3.7 billion in emergency border spending to deal with the remarkable surge of unaccompanied youths at the South Texas border.
Republicans insist they won’t agree to the spending without accompanying changes to a 2008 law that gives unaccompanied minors arriving from Central American the right to an immigration hearing, in practice keeping them in this country for years.
But Democratic resistance to such changes hardened, with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi changing her stance Wednesday and announcing her opposition to altering the law in a way that would create shortcuts around the immigration court system for Central American youths. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also took a firm stand against any changes and were meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday to press the point.
“Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus feel as though the kids should have their day in court,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said ahead of the meeting. “We hope that (Obama) agrees. We hope that he will honor the purpose of the 2008 law.”
Meanwhile top administration officials including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson were to brief all senators behind closed doors Wednesday evening in a meeting that could help determine whether the issue can be resolved on Capitol Hill in the three weeks remaining before lawmakers leave town for their annual August recess.
The 2008 law in question requires unaccompanied youths under the age of 18 who cross the border illegally to receive an immigration hearing, a process that is heavily backlogged and means that many wait months to years. That provision does not apply to border-crossers from Mexico, however. If captured, unaccompanied Mexican youths can be returned promptly if a Border Patrol official determines that they don’t have a claim for asylum or refugee status.
A plan by House Republicans and a bipartisan bill proposed by Texas lawmakers would change the law to allow Central Americans to be treated the same way as Mexicans. Administration officials have said they want that kind of flexibility, but have not proposed specific legislation. House Republicans are working to pair their policy changes with a much smaller spending bill they hope to bring to a vote as early as next week.