House, Senate poised to vote on rival border security bills
WASHINGTON - The Congress on Thursday began debating "emergency" border security legislation that lawmakers acknowledge will not be enacted but will enable them to campaign for re-election by arguing they worked to address a humanitarian crisis.
Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion to respond to the crisis in which tens of thousands of Central American children have tried to enter the United States illegally.
With Congress on the verge of starting its five-week summer recess, the votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-held Senate on Thursday will mark a holding pattern until September.
On Thursday, the House will debate providing $659 million for the border problem, which is far below Obama's request and has drawn a veto threat from the White House.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican, said the illegal child migrants, who mostly come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have "overwhelmed our current facilities and personnel."
He added that the United States needed to act to prevent further illegal immigration and to provide funds to process those already in the country.
The prospect of deporting most of the unaccompanied minors worries Democrats.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said she had spoken to a 15-year-old Honduran girl whose parents were killed in gang violence in Honduras. "You're going to send her back?"
House Speaker John Boehner, facing a revolt from conservative Republicans who complained the measure would not do enough to stop the child migration, made a new concession late on Wednesday.
With Senator Ted Cruz, who has strong support from the conservative Tea Party movement, working behind the scenes to help defeat the bill in the House, Boehner agreed to add a vote on a second bill on Thursday.
The second bill would stop Obama from expanding his 2012 action to suspend deportations of children brought by their parents to the United States before mid-2007.
The House has passed legislation that attempted to shut down the 2012 policy, which Republicans link to the influx of children now arriving at the southwestern border with Mexico.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the 2012 policy "has benefited more than 500,000 young people who are Americans in every way except on paper." He said it also allows U.S. law enforcement to concentrate on deporting higher-priority illegal immigrants.
Neither House bill is expected to get an airing in the Senate.
Meanwhile, Obama has faced a rebellion from liberal Democrats who rejected the president's support for legislation that would allow him to deport the Central American children more easily and more quickly.
As a result, the Senate will vote on Thursday on a $2.7 billion bill to hire more immigration judges, help feed and house the young immigrants and take steps to discourage more Central American children from making the journey north.
Republicans are expected to block this bill from advancing because of the amount of proposed spending and their belief that it fails to address the root of the problem.