Congress Fails To Act On Unaccompanied Minors

Despite all the recent focus on unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, the Congress left for a five week break being nowhere near a consensus on how to deal with the crisis. The President who had been the subject of criticism earlier this spring for not requesting greater funding to address the growing numbers of children, was also the subject of some departing congressional criticism for asking for too much funding. In the end, the House reduced their funding even more than last week’s initial proposal, pulled a vote on that package on Thursday afternoon and then passed a slightly higher costing proposal on Friday after the Senate had left for the break. The Senate couldn’t get enough votes to break a filibuster on their package and they failed to pass a bill and by week’s end the President was still contemplating what he could or would do without Congress.

The President has requested $3.7 billion to be spread across HHS, the State Department and Homeland Security. He indicated some openness to amending a 2008 change that was made to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which allowed for greater deliberation for unaccompanied minors coming here (as long as they were not coming from Mexico or Canada) but a large number of Democrats in both the Senate and House have objected to such a change.

At the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), a working group of Republican House members crafted their own proposal that was set at a total of $1.5 billion and would designate much of the funding for border patrol, and the National Guard and direct quicker deportation of the children. By Thursday that funding had been reduced to approximately $650 million but late Thursday afternoon the House leadership pulled the bill because they didn’t have enough Republican members who would support it. The leadership issued a statement through Speaker Boehner’s office that said in part, “There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action…” The statement seemed to run counter to a law suit filed a day earlier that charges the President has acted independent of congressional authority. The statement was criticized by both the White House and some conservative critics of the President. The reaction to the postponed vote delayed the House departure until Friday because many members wanted evidence that they at least voted for something. By Friday morning the package had inched up to $694 million with added money for governors to use the National Guard. They also had a vote to restrict the President’s executive authority in regard to immigrant status and issues.

On the Senate side, the progress was just as slow. Senate Democrats couldn’t break a filibuster over their legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) had been guiding a $2.7 billion bill that would not amend the 2008 changes to the TVPA. It would also cover funding for services through the end of the calendar year meaning it would cover parts of FY 2014 and 2015. To pass the bill would require 60 votes and some Republican support. Debate stopped when a procedural vote failed by a vote of 50 to 44. An additional part of the Senate debate was the efforts of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who had been working with House Republicans to work for a repeal of President Obama’s 2012 executive order that offered some protections to immigrant students who had been brought into the United States at a younger age (similar to the “Dream Act”). Although critics of the President had been arguing that that 2012 order had caused the surge in immigrants, recent debate has now focused on the 2008 changes to the TVPA instead.

Congress is gone until September 8. The President is likely to move funding from other government programs if funding runs out before the Congress returns.

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