Speaker John Boehner said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama and the White House are “jeopardizing” the ability to come up with an emergency funding bill to deal with the unaccompanied minors crisis by opposing changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law.
He also accused Obama and the White House of backpedaling on plans to change the 2008 law due to pressure from Democrats. The 2008 law gives more legal protections to children from countries other than Mexico or Canada, and essentially makes it more difficult to deport them.
“The lack of leadership from this White House, and President Obama’s refusal to stand up to critics in his own political party, are jeopardizing our ability to find common ground and help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis,” Boehner said in a statement.
When asked about Boehner’s criticism, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said administration officials have been in touch with Democrats and Republicans to emphasize the importance of Congress acting to approve Obama’s $3.7 billion supplemental request. He said the funds are needed to “more efficiently and effectively process the claims that are made” by unaccompanied minors.
“The bottom line here is the federal government needs additional resources to make sure we are appropriately managing the urgent humanitarian situation at the border,” Earnest told reporters during the daily briefing on Tuesday.
The 2008 law has become a main focus in the debate over how to stem the influx of unaccompanied minors — the majority of them from Central America — who are coming to the U.S. Republicans want to amend the law to treat Central American children the same as those who come from Mexico and Canada.
In a letter sent to members of Congress last month, Obama indicated he was in favor of making changes to the 2008 law. He asked that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson be given “additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.”
But Democrats have opposed making changes to the 2008 law, saying it would undermine the due process rights of unaccompanied minors. They’re urging Obama to use existing authorities to ensure all unaccompanied minors are receiving hearings in a timely manner without being denied due process.
Boehner also noted in his statement Tuesday that the border working group that he put together has completed an “extensive review” of the unaccompanied minors crisis. The group, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), will present recommendations to Republicans at their conference meeting later this week.
Among the expected recommendations are deploying National Guard troops to the southern border, amending the 2008 law to speed up deportations and bringing in temporary immigration judges.
Boehner’s statement comes a day after Earnest said the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended along the Rio Grande border in Texas is down. Apprehensions fell from an average of 355 a day in June to an average of 150 over the first two weeks of July.
In addition, the number of unaccompanied minors in Customs and Border Protection custody has fallen from a high of more than 3,300 in June to around 700 last week.
Earnest said the drop in apprehensions cannot be attributed to one factor. However, he said the White House believes that the administration’s “response and efforts to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey” as well as efforts to reinforce that apprehended migrants are ultimately returned to their home countries “have all played a part.”