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House, Senate Float Dueling Emergency-Funding Bills to Address Child Immigrants

By Lauren Camera — July 23, 2014 2 min read
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A standoff is brewing between the House and Senate over emergency supplemental aid to address the surge of unaccompanied minors streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border from Central American countries.

On July 8, President Barack Obama requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help stem the tide of child immigrants. More than half of the cash—$1.8 billion—would help cover the costs of providing medical services to the surge of children at the border. It would also expand the number of longer-term shelter facilities and other services provided to unaccompanied minors after they are released by U.S. Border Patrol agents into the custody and care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Funding proposals in the House and Senate began taking shape this week, though so far they seem vastly different.

On Wednesday morning, House Republicans outlined their legislative proposal for the additional funding, which Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said would not exceed $1.5 billion. But, as Emma Dumain reports in Roll Call, the amount could be much smaller.

That number bumps up against a proposal floated Tuesday evening in the Senate, where Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she is working on a $3.6 billion emergency funding proposal. According to Niels Lesniewski’s reporting in Roll Call, $1.1 billion would go to the Department of Homeland Security, and $1.2 billion would go to HHS.

The conflict isn’t just a fiscal one. In what will likely be used as a bargaining chip, spending-weary GOP lawmakers are seeking changes to a 2008 trafficking law that prevents immigration authorities from turning away any children arriving from noncontiguous countries.

Under the law, unaccompanied minors from Mexico or Canada must be sent back within 48 hours unless they are claiming asylum or are human trafficking victims. Children from countries that don’t border the U.S. are entitled to appear before an immigration judge before any decisions are made about their fate, and a massive backlog of cases in federal immigration court has resulted in most of these young people waiting many months, or years, before their cases are heard.

Democrats are stressing that policy changes have no place in a funding bill, but Speaker of the House John Boehner is pressuring the White House to back the GOP proposal. In a letter to the president, Boehner reminded Obama that he recently asked Congress for flexibility from the law and predicted a funding compromise wouldn’t be possible without the policy fix.

“It is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law,” Boehner wrote.

These dueling emergency funding proposals will likely evolve quickly over the rest of this week and next. So check back here soon for updates.

And if you haven’t been following all the developments surrounding this new face of immigration, please read this story by my colleague, Lesli Maxwell, who’s also been blogging about the issue over at Learning the Language.

As she reports, since last October, more than 50,000 child migrants have been detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents. That’s more than twice the number in all of 2013. Most of the detentions have occurred in the Rio Grande Valley region along the border between Texas and Mexico.

A new report from the Pew Research Center shows the number of unaccompanied children ages 12 and under who crossed the border rose by 117 percent between the current fiscal year and last fiscal year.

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