Senate debates measure to defuse immigration crisis at border

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats opened debate Wednesday on an emergency measure to help stem the flood of young migrants from Central America, though they still face two uphill votes — another procedural, and one of final passage — before they can head home for the five-week August recess having passed legislation to address the crisis at the southern border.

The first procedural measure passed 63-33, with 11 Republicans joining their Democratic counterparts in favor of opening debate, and two Democrats — Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana — opposing it.

The Democratic proposal, which also includes money to combat wildfires in Western states and for Israel’s missile defense system known as Iron Dome, would allocate $2.7 billion toward what both President Barack Obama and congressional lawmakers have called an urgent humanitarian crisis.

The amount falls short of the $3.7 billion in emergency funds the president originally requested, but it is far more than the $659 million that House Republicans are proposing in their alternative.

The House plan would change a 2008 law intended to combat human trafficking, to make it easier to return the Central American migrant children more quickly to their home countries.

It would also increase the National Guard presence on the southern border, increase the number of immigration judges to speed up court proceedings and allow Border Patrol agents onto federally controlled national park and monument land along the southern border.

On Wednesday, the White House issued a veto threat against the House legislation. “Republicans have had more than a year to comprehensively fix the nation’s broken immigration system, but instead of working toward a real, lasting solution, Republicans released patchwork legislation that will only put more arbitrary and unrealistic demands on an already broken system,” the administration said in a statement. “This bill will undercut due process for vulnerable children, which could result in their removal to life-threatening situations in foreign countries.”

The Senate Democratic plan does not make any changes to the 2008 law, with Democrats in both the House and Senate almost unanimously opposed to any change to it, saying that could hurt the young migrants fleeing violence in their home countries.

With just three days left before Congress takes its five-week break, it remains unclear whether the House or the Senate will be able to pass any border legislation.

Even if both chambers do manage to push through their bills, the two sides are unlikely to reach a compromise between their competing proposals before the August recess.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is facing an assault on multiple fronts in his attempt to hold together his fragile coalition.

Some Senate Democrats are threatening to use any border bill the House sends them as a vehicle to enter into House-Senate negotiations over the broader bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in June 2013, which includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.

Even though the Senate Democrats almost certainly do not have the votes to execute such a maneuver, the mere suggestion of trying to force a larger immigration compromise could rattle House Republicans, who are already wary of trusting Mr. Obama to enforce any immigration-related legislation.

On the Republican side, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also holding a meeting Wednesday evening with as many as two dozen House Republicans.

Mr. Cruz has made no secret of his opposition to the House bill, which does not include any changes to the president’s 2012 executive action allowing young immigrants brought to the country as children — known as “Dreamers” — to remain here without threat of deportation.

“The evidence shows that the amnesty President Obama announced in 2012 is driving record numbers of immigrants to enter our nation illegally,” Mr. Cruz said in a statement Tuesday.

The Texas senator occasionally meets with his House counterparts, and this will be the third such meeting he has held in his Senate office.

But if he is able to persuade enough House Republicans not to support their own bill without further changes, the House could also fail to pass any legislation before the break.

United States government - Barack Obama - United States Congress - John Boehner - U.S. Republican Party - United States Senate - U.S. Democratic Party - Ted Cruz - Kay Hagan


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