The House GOP’s Border Proposal Has Washington Headed for a Deadlock

The working group’s proposals laid out Wednesday morning clash with what the Senate and White House are looking for. And it’s not even clear they could make it out of the House.

A U.S. Office of Air and Marine helicopter patrols over the Rio Grande on July 21, 2014 at the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas.
National Journal
Rachel Roubein
July 23, 2014, 7:56 a.m.

Con­gress may be headed to­ward a stale­mate on the bor­der.

The crux of a House GOP work­ing group’s plan, laid out Wed­nes­day, to ad­dress the in­flux of chil­dren stream­ing to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der con­tains fun­da­ment­al dif­fer­ences from the Sen­ate’s evolving blue­print.

A pro­pos­al that law­makers have de­cried as one of the most con­ten­tious — and pos­sibly ir­re­con­cil­able — is a change to the 2008 anti-traf­fick­ing law pro­hib­it­ing Cent­ral Amer­ic­an chil­dren from vol­un­tary re­mov­al. This is a key com­pon­ent of a plan from a House Re­pub­lic­an work­ing group, led by Rep. Kay Granger. House GOP Con­fer­ence mem­bers were briefed Wed­nes­day morn­ing on the group’s re­com­mend­a­tions to solve what Pres­id­ent Obama has called a hu­man­it­ari­an crisis at the bor­der.

The re­com­mend­a­tions — which haven’t been set in stone — in­cluded a num­ber of bul­let points fo­cused on se­cur­ing the bor­der.

  • De­ploy the Na­tion­al Guard to the bor­der to as­sist Bor­der Patrol agents. Granger did not say ex­actly what the num­ber of troops might be.
  • Re­quire the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment to craft and im­ple­ment a plan to “gain op­er­a­tion­al con­trol” of the south­w­est bor­der.
  • Ad­dress bor­der-se­cur­ity is­sues in Cent­ral Amer­ica and Mex­ico.
  • Cre­ate re­pat­ri­ation cen­ters to help fam­il­ies and un­ac­com­pan­ied minors once they re­turn to their home coun­try.
  • Im­ple­ment ag­gress­ive mes­saging cam­paigns — which are already un­der­way in Hon­dur­as, Guatem­ala, and El Sal­vador. These are aimed at ex­pos­ing the dangers of the jour­ney to the U.S. and dis­pelling the myth that chil­dren will be per­mit­ted to enter the coun­try.
  • Pro­cess fam­ily units with­in five to sev­en days. Chil­dren should have a fast-tracked im­mig­ra­tion-court hear­ing with­in sev­en days after a child wel­fare of­fi­cial’s screen­ing. More judge teams and tem­por­ary judges would be ad­ded.
  • Es­tab­lish an in­de­pend­ent com­mis­sion to craft met­rics to show if ini­ti­at­ives to se­cure the bor­der are work­ing.
  • Cre­ate tough pen­al­ties for smug­glers and dis­as­semble transna­tion­al crim­in­al or­gan­iz­a­tions.

The GOP out­line may not have the full back­ing of House Re­pub­lic­ans. The scope of con­ser­vat­ive op­pos­i­tion to the Granger plan isn’t yet fully known, but it is rooted in a nar­rat­ive that has dic­tated GOP hos­til­ity to everything im­mig­ra­tion-re­lated that has been dis­cussed dur­ing this Con­gress.

Per­haps the most im­port­ant as­pect of Re­pub­lic­ans’ op­pos­i­tion is their vis­cer­al dis­trust of Obama to ex­ecute and en­force any of the laws they have already passed or may pass in the fu­ture. Con­ser­vat­ives have con­sist­ently ac­cused Obama of se­lect­ively en­for­cing im­mig­ra­tion law, and many have es­sen­tially ruled out any fur­ther le­gis­lat­ing on the is­sue un­til a new pres­id­ent resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Av­en­ue.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 5114) }}

Rep. John Flem­ing, R-La., said House Speak­er John Boehner ex­pressed some doubt as to wheth­er the Granger group’s re­com­mend­a­tions could pass the House. The speak­er opened the Wed­nes­day meet­ing ask­ing for in­put from con­fer­ence mem­bers on the pro­posed plan.

“This dis­cus­sion among our mem­bers is go­ing to con­tin­ue, but we have not made any de­cisions,” Boehner said at a 10 a.m. press con­fer­ence af­ter­ward.

There will be more meet­ings to get the policy hammered out, Granger said after the GOP con­fer­ence ended Wed­nes­day morn­ing. It hasn’t been de­cided if the fund­ing and the policy re­com­mend­a­tions will be pack­aged in one bill.

Fin­an­cially speak­ing, House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Hal Ro­gers said $1.5 bil­lion was the best es­tim­ate for emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing in the House, al­though the GOP con­fer­ence hasn’t come to a con­sensus on this num­ber.

But out­side the GOP Con­fer­ence, there’s a ma­jor fin­an­cial dis­crep­ancy between the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Sen­ate, and the House on the amount of fund­ing that should be ap­pro­pri­ated. The White House called for $3.7 bil­lion. Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski, of Mary­land, un­veiled le­gis­la­tion Wed­nes­day call­ing for more than $2 bil­lion, in­clud­ing $1.2 bil­lion — the largest al­loc­a­tion in the re­quest — for Health and Hu­man Ser­vices so the agency can in part provide shel­ter for the chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary of the le­gis­la­tion re­leased by the com­mit­tee.

And even the House’s pos­sible $1.5 bil­lion fig­ure is just way too high, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told a gaggle of re­port­ers Wed­nes­day.

“To spend bil­lions of dol­lars on for­eign chil­dren — money that we don’t have, that we have to bor­row to get, that we can’t af­ford, to pay back — is fin­an­cial in­san­ity when you can solve the prob­lem with as little as $20 to $30 mil­lion,” he said.

All these fund­ing and policy dif­fer­ences would need to be com­pleted with­in the next week or so, be­fore Con­gress takes a sum­mer break.

“It has to get done by the Au­gust re­cess,” Granger said. “You don’t walk away from something like this and say we’ll come back in a month, when kids are com­ing across that bor­der.”

Rep. Matt Sal­mon of Ari­zona agreed. Sal­mon, both a staunch con­ser­vat­ive and a mem­ber of Granger’s work­ing group, said it would be “in­cred­ibly hard” to face voters back home without tak­ing any ac­tion be­fore the re­cess.

Asked about op­pos­i­tion from his fel­low House con­ser­vat­ives to what he called “a really good plan,” Sal­mon replied, “The im­me­di­ate push­back from some of the con­ser­vat­ives is to any­thing, even if it’s the best darn bill in the world. And I think that most of them re­cog­nize that this is ac­tu­ally a pretty good pro­pos­al.”

One such con­ser­vat­ive, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, isn’t sold. Asked wheth­er he’ll vote for the pro­pos­al, Gohmert said, “If we had a pres­id­ent who en­forced the law, yes.”

But once Ju­ly sun­sets, Con­gress will take its re­cess — with or without emer­gency funds.

DHS Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son has sent mul­tiple des­per­ate warn­ings to law­makers that, come mid-Au­gust, U.S. Im­mig­ra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment will run out of money.

Without emer­gency sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing, ICE will lack the re­sources to ex­pand de­ten­tion and re­mov­al cap­ab­il­it­ies for adults with chil­dren. HHS will lack the re­sources to cre­ate stable, more cost-ef­fect­ive ar­range­ments for kids cross­ing the bor­der. And chil­dren will wait longer to see an im­mig­ra­tion judge, ac­cord­ing to an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial.

And the White House hasn’t pub­licly stated what ex­actly a Plan B en­tails.

“Right now, we’re fo­cused on Plan A,” White House spokes­man Josh Earn­est said at a brief­ing last week. “Again, Plan A is something that Re­pub­lic­ans them­selves have ad­voc­ated for, right — press­ing this ad­min­is­tra­tion to mo­bil­ize re­sources to meet this ur­gent hu­man­it­ari­an need and en­force the law.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion can take some solo steps, yet ad­di­tion­al re­sources are needed — and Con­gress should ap­pro­pri­ate them, Earn­est said.

“I’m as­sum­ing we can pass a bill in the House,” House Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Hal Ro­gers told re­port­ers Tues­day even­ing. “I’m as­sum­ing the Sen­ate can pass a bill. And I’m as­sum­ing we can re­con­cile our dif­fer­ences.”

But what will hap­pen if the dif­fer­ences are too stark and ICE runs out of funds?

“That’s a bunch of hy­po­thet­ic­als,” Ro­gers said.

Yet, some law­makers doubt these fun­da­ment­al dif­fer­ences can be hashed out in the next week.

Sen. John Mc­Cain, who led a charge for im­mig­ra­tion re­form last year, said Tues­day he’s “pess­im­ist­ic” that a deal on the bor­der will be reached be­fore the re­cess, largely be­cause im­mig­ra­tion ad­voc­ates, House Demo­crat­ic Lead­er Nancy Pelosi, and the Con­gres­sion­al His­pan­ic Caucus op­pose mak­ing changes to the 2008 traf­fick­ing law.

In a let­ter Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, House Speak­er John Boehner echoed Mc­Cain’s con­cerns, ask­ing Pres­id­ent Obama to cla­ri­fy the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­s­i­tion on mak­ing changes to the 2008 law, as con­flict­ing opin­ions among Demo­crats have emerged with­in the past sev­er­al weeks.

“We were sur­prised that you did not in­clude these changes in your form­al sup­ple­ment­al re­quest,” Boehner wrote. “Worse, in re­cent days, seni­or con­gres­sion­al lead­ers in your own polit­ic­al party have back­ped­alled and voiced un­swerving op­pos­i­tion to any changes at all.”

And this is a much-needed re­form the House Re­pub­lic­an work­ing group is ad­voc­at­ing, Boehner wrote.

Even then, it’s un­clear if the GOP re­com­mend­a­tions can get through the House.

“We just don’t know the num­bers in our caucus and on the oth­er side of the aisle,” Ro­gers told re­port­ers Tues­day even­ing. “There’s been no whip check at this point.”

This story has been up­dated.

Tim Alberta, Michael Catalini and Brian Resnick contributed to this article.
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