House Republicans moved to tackle the border crisis at the source Wednesday, proposing to set up repatriation centers in Central American countries to help send back the wave of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children arriving in the U.S.
The plan called for an aggressive public relations campaign in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to discourage families from sending their children on the long journey to America, as well as establishing border security measures not just in the U.S. but in those Central American countries and Mexico.
These dramatic steps on foreign soil were part of a $1.5 billion plan drawn up by a House GOP task force.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, organized the task force to craft an alternative to President Obama's request for $3.7 billion to address the crisis, which was widely criticized as excessive and pronounced dead on arrival in Congress.
Rep. Kay Granger, the Texas Republican who led the task force, called the proposed measures "common-sense, compassionate but tough solutions."
"Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children and it has remained a top priority throughout this process," she said. "In our personal meetings with the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala they both stated that they wanted their children back, and we believe that is in the best interest of all the countries involved in this crisis."
Under the plan, the U.S. also would accelerate immigration hearings for the children flooding across the Southern border, provide additional judges to hear requests for asylum, and house the children close to where they enter the country in Texas and Arizona.
The proposals have almost no chance of passing through Congress. The plan faces strong opposition in the GOP-controlled House and even stiffer resistance in the Democrat-run Senate.
Democrats railed against the task force's proposal to change a 2008 law that delays immigration hearings for children from Central America, which is home to most of the 57,000 unaccompanied children who have arrived illegally in the U.S. so far this year.
The law, known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, was intended to protect Central American children from human trafficking, but critics say it has become a foothold and incentive for Central American children coming to the U.S.
President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, supported changing the law until abruptly reversing their stance after hearing strong opposition from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and pro-immigration groups.
Mr. Boehner wrote to the president, pressing him to restore his support for changing the law.
"Frankly, 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," wrote the speaker.
Signaling that the crisis wouldn't end any time soon, the Pentagon announced it will freeing up additional space for housing up to 5,000 more of the unaccompanied alien children at military facilities through the end of the year.
The Obama administration turned to the military to house the children after repeatedly encountering opposition in communities slated for shelter sites, including in Maryland and Virginia.
At least 90,000 children will be caught this year, and more than 140,000 will be apprehended in 2015, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo.
Until recently, just about 8,000 unaccompanied children per year attempted to cross the border.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a $2.7 billion emergency appropriations bill to redouble efforts to shelter and provide immigration hearings for the children while they are in the United States, with few measures included to enhance border security.
It headed for an almost certain standoff with Republicans.
"It's unfortunate that Democrats here in the Senate just want to vote to spend money," said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a top advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
Other proposals form the House task force included:
⦁ Deploy the National Guard to the Southern border to assist Border Patrol in the humanitarian care and needs of the unaccompanied minors. This will free up the Border Patrol to focus on their primary mission.
⦁ Prohibit the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture from denying or restricting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) activities on federal land under their respective jurisdictions.
⦁ Require a DHS strategy and implementation plan to gain operational control of the Southern border.
⦁ Establish independent third party commission to develop border security metrics as a means to accurately gauge progress on border security.
⦁ Mandate the detention of all Family Units apprehended at the border with the ultimate goal of processing family units in 5-7 days. Congress must continue stringent oversight to ensure this mandate is being met.
⦁ Deploy additional judge teams and temporary judges to expedite the hearing of asylum and credible fear claims.
⦁ Εξαμινε τhe standard under current law that allows an alien to show a "credible fear of persecution" to ensure a fraud-free system moving forward. In addition, criminal aliens and criminal gang members should not receive asylum.
The House task force proposals also immediately drew fire from both conservative Republicans and Democrats.
Rep. Steve A. King, Iowa Republican and member of the Tea Party Caucus, said conservatives wouldn't back the task force plan because Mr. Obama could not be trusted to enforce the laws if it passed.
"The president does not want to secure the border," he said. "He's got the resources to do it. He doesn't do it. He won't do it. We can send money to him and say, 'Do this.' He's not going to follow the law. He's proven that over and over again."
Mr. King said that he welcomed an "impasse" for the emergency spending bills, which was where the debate appeared to be headed with just nine days until Congress is scheduled to adjourn for August recess.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the Republican plan would further "exploit" the children by sending them home to countries where violence and drug gangs run rampant. "I didn't come here to exploit children. I came here to protect children," he said.
• Maggie Ybarra contributed to this article.
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