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House Republicans Pass Border, Immigration Package But Victory May Be Only Symbolic

Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Following a delay that tested the ability of a new team of House Republican whips, lawmakers approved on Friday night a $694 million border security plan and a separate bill aimed at curbing President Barack Obama’s ability to expand deferrals of young immigrants by executive action.

While Republicans worked into the night to pass the legislation before adjourning until September, neither bill is expected to be passed by the Senate, which had already adjourned Thursday night.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin and one of the new deputy whips, had spent the better part of the week trying to persuade reluctant colleagues and secure the votes needed for passage.

“Our sense is that the president is not following the current law and really has asked for a large amount of money, upward of $4 billion, but really has no plan and has not exercised the kind of leadership that we’d like to see exercised at the border,” Wagner said, in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio earlier in the week.  

One of the Republican-backed provisions that Democrats opposed would amend a 2008, anti-trafficking law. (That law, signed by President George W. Bush, had won easy passage as an anti-trafficking measure.)

Currently the law ensures a more complete hearing process for immigrant children from countries that do not border the United States, than it does for minors from Mexico or Canada. Most of the nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children who’ve arrived in the U.S. over the last several months are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  

Republicans say that law, as it stands, sends the wrong message -- that once such children arrive in the U.S., they can stay. 

“The quickest way to end this crisis is to make sure that (foreign parents) understand that we’ll take care of their children when they get here, but they’re going home to their families,” Wagner said.

Democrats accused Republicans of weakening the anti-trafficking law and noted that President George W. Bush signed it into law after it passed with bipartisan support.   

To speed up deportations, the bill would increase the number of hearing offices and use telecommunications and other methods to adjudicate the children “quickly and swiftly,” Wagner said.  Rather than releasing children to individuals in the U.S. who claim to be relatives, Wagner says the measure would also allow officials to detain children pending a deportation hearing, which she says will take days, “not months, not years.”  

About $40 million in the supplemental spending plan would help foreign governments establish centers to take care of children after deportation hearings, according to Wagner.

The president had requested $3.7 billion to help a handful of federal departments deal with the nearly 60-thousand unaccompanied children currently in the United States.  Wagner says Republicans refused to give Obama, a blank check.  Instead, she says the measure provides funds only through September 30; the end of the current fiscal year.  

The second bill in the package, takes aim at the president’s 2012 announcement to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children.  The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA, was added to win support from hard-line conservatives upset with the president’s executive actions on immigration.  The measure freezes funding for new DACA, applications and would block any similar programs initiated through executive order.  

Throughout the process House Democrats pushed Republicans to consider a bipartisan immigration bill approved last year by the Senate.  House Republicans have refused to take-up that measure for more than a year.

Senate Democrats left town Thursday night, without passing their own $2.7-billion supplemental plan after Republicans blocked consideration of the bill in a procedural vote.  Two moderate Democrats joined the Republicans in that vote.  Senate Republicans objected to the Democratic plan, in part, because it did not include policy changes similar to those in the House package.

How they voted:

Both of Missouri’s Democratic representatives, William Lacy Clay Jr. of St. Louis and Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City voted against the package.  

U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, also voted against the legislation.  “Today’s bill simply puts a weak band-aid on our country’s immigration problem.  It will not make our nation safer,” he said.  Enyart described the votes as a sad “continuation of our do-nothing Congress."

All of Missouri’s Republican representatives voted for both bills in the package.  

Wagner called on Senate Democrats to come back from vacation and address what she called a humanitarian crisis.  “The House of Representatives answered the call of the American people to secure the border and compassionately return these children to their homeland,” she said.  

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, said the legislation is needed to secure the borders for a nation in crisis from the influx of illegal immigrants.  “This was a preventable tragedy created by an administration focused more on immigration politics than the immigration problem,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, agreed that the legislation was essential to secure the border.  “These bills will help expedite the safe return of the children from Central America back to their homes while sending extra help to the border to stop criminal elements who might want to come into our country.  In addition, it prevents the president from making further executive actions impacting immigration policy,” she said.  

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, said it was important to remain firm. “We must send a message to all who seek to come here illegally that they will not be allowed to stay.”

Illinois' Republican representatives Rodney Davis and John Shimkus also voted for the package.




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