WASHINGTON — House Republicans are preparing to recommend National Guard at the border and speedier returns of Central American youths as their response to the immigration crisis.
The recommendations from a working group created by House Speaker John Boehner could come as early as Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday, according to the group's leader, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.
At the same time Republicans are working to significantly pare down President Barack Obama's $3.7 billion emergency spending request for the border, hoping to act within weeks on a smaller spending bill along with a package of policy changes.
The developments come as lawmakers of both parties say Congress must act swiftly to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied youths from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arriving at the border.
"It's a critical situation and if we don't deal with it urgently but well, done right, we're facing a crisis of just huge proportions," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who traveled to Central America with Granger and others over the weekend.
The proposals of the House GOP group will include recommending changes to a 2008 trafficking victims law that requires immigration hearings for minors who arrive at the border from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Since there's a backlog of more than 350,000 cases in the immigration court system, the result is that Central American youths stay in the U.S. for months or years as they await distant court dates that many never show up for.
"The average case now takes a year and a half to 5 years to go through the process. With 57,000 unaccompanied children that's just not acceptable, so we've got to change that," said Granger.
The House GOP proposal would allow youths from Central America and other countries to be treated the same as Mexican kids, who can be turned around quickly by Border Patrol agents unless they're able to make the case that they have a fear of return and require further screening.
That proposed change has emerged as a major point of contention, as immigration advocates and some Democrats contend that the Border Patrol screenings are cursory and inadequate and that the kids will be returned to gang violence and worse.
Obama administration officials have indicated support for changing the 2008 law, but the White House backed off from endorsing it formally after complaints from advocacy groups.
"The backbone and commitment to justice of the strongest and most generous nation in the world is trembling at the presence of 50,000 children and responding by taking away legal rights from vulnerable children. It is shameful," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a leading liberal voice in the House on immigration issues.
Prospects for the House and Senate to approve such change are uncertain.