Obama holding off on deportation changes, amid request for border funding
President Obama reportedly will hold off seeking legal changes to speed up the deportation process for illegal immigrant children, when he submits his request to Congress on Tuesday seeking billions in emergency funding to deal with the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration insists it still plans to seek expanded authority to expedite deportations. But The Associated Press reported overnight that the request is moving on a separate track, amid objections from immigration advocates to the deportation proposal.
The blurry state of affairs reflects the political pressure the administration is facing from both sides of the debate.
From its left flank, advocacy groups oppose proposals to speed thousands of unaccompanied minors back home to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. But Republicans in Congress, and some Democrats, want the administration to get tough, and send a message that these illegal immigrants cannot get a free pass to stay in the U.S.
The AP reported that, according to unnamed Capitol Hill aides, the administration decided to submit the spending request apart from the policy changes.
But an administration official told Fox News they still intend to seek expanded authority to expedite removals.
“We already sent a letter to the Congressional Leadership last week on our desire for expanded authorities and we are still seeking those authorities and have made clear we will work with Congress to get those authorities,” the official said.
The developments underscore the delicate position the administration finds itself in as it risks alienating allies by pursuing changes to turn the immigrant kids around more quickly. More than 50,000 have arrived since October, in many cases fleeing violence at home, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S.
Congressional Republicans blame Obama policies for the confusion; Obama administration officials dispute that.
The money Obama is seeking would be for immigration judges, detention facilities, legal aid and other items that could address the situation on the border, which the administration has termed a humanitarian crisis.
As lawmakers return to Washington this week from a weeklong July 4th recess, Obama’s spending request is set to be a focus, with the Senate Appropriations Committee scheduling a hearing to examine it. It’s not yet clear how lawmakers will react to the request, although aides seem optimistic it will get through the Democratic-controlled Senate in the coming weeks.
The issue has become a political problem for Obama that looks likely to follow him this week to Texas, where he is traveling primarily to raise money for congressional Democrats.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated Monday that Obama had no plans to visit the border, but Obama faced renewed criticism from Republicans over that decision.
“President Obama needs a wakeup call — and visiting the border and seeing firsthand the severity of this ongoing crisis is that wakeup call,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor.
The developments all come as Obama has declared comprehensive immigration legislation dead in Congress and announced plans to proceed on his own by executive action to make whatever fixes he can to the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system. That could put Obama in the seemingly contradictory position of shielding millions of people from deportation while at the same time trying to hurry deportations for the unaccompanied children.
The White House told Congress last week that it would seek “additional authority” for the Homeland Security secretary to quickly return the minors back home. Immigration advocates understood this to mean that the children, who currently have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, would lose that right and instead would have to make it through an initial screening with a Border Patrol agent.
The immigrant advocacy community responded angrily, with more than 200 groups signing onto a letter last week calling on Obama to reconsider the changes.
“It would take away their right to council, right to proper screening. … It would undermine completely due process,” Leslie Holman, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in an interview Monday.
The White House says the plan is to speed up the processing of Central American border crossers without taking away their due process.
Fox News’ Ed Henry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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