House Speaker John A. Boehner was pessimistic Thursday that Congress will pass a bill to address the surge of illegal immigrant children before lawmakers head home for a monthlong August vacation, as the gap between Democrats and Republicans grows wider.
President Obama had called for $3.7 billion in new spending and for changes to existing laws to make it easier to deport illegal immigrants, but his Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have rejected those changes to the law, while GOP leaders say no money will pass without them.
“I don’t know how you can address the problem down there without looking at the ‘08 law,” Mr. Boehner said. “I don’t know how Congress can send more money to the border to begin to mitigate the problem if you don’t do something about the ‘08 law that’s being abused. And it is being abused.”
The 2008 law says illegal immigrant children from Central America traveling without their parents should be processed and turned over to social workers, who try to place them with families while they await deportation.
That differs from most other illegal immigrants — adults, families traveling together and even unaccompanied children from Mexico — who are able to be quickly more deported.
Republicans say Central American children can be treated the same was as Mexican children, which means amending the 2008 law. Mr. Obama has agreed, in principle.
But congressional Democrats say that’s inhumane, particularly given the poverty or gang violence that the Central American children are often fleeing.
“There is a reason why that law was passed. It was passed to say that non-contiguous nations, if you are fleeing 2,000 miles to try to come to the United States, there may be a greater probability that you have a real case to be made for asylum,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.
The brewing stalemate on Capitol Hill means that months into the surge, which has seen the number of unaccompanied children leap from about 2,000 a month to 10,000 a month, solutions are still far off.
Despite holding myriad hearings and traveling to the border themselves, members of Congress can’t even agree on what’s causing the surge.
Mr. Menendez said it’s a symptom of crushing poverty and brutal violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and he said the solutions lie in helping those nations grow their economies and stiffen their security.
Some Republicans say Mr. Obama’s own immigration policies, including his 2012 decision to grant young adult illegal immigrants tentative legal status, have also contributed.
Others in the GOP dispute that, but say smugglers are taking advantage of the 2008 law that lets children be released into the U.S., using that as a selling point to convince Central American parents their children can gain at least a tentative foothold in the states, even if they arrive illegally.
“The facts on the ground are that if a child — if an unaccompanied minor or a child with a mother comes across, very, very few are actually being sent back,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.
He has introduced a bill to treat Central American children the same as Mexican children and speed up deportations.