WASHINGTON — House Republicans announced Tuesday that they will recommend dispatching the National Guard to south Texas and speeding Central American youths back home as their response to the immigration crisis that's engulfing the border and testing Washington's ability to respond.
The recommendations, to come from a working group established by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will set up a clash with leading Democrats who oppose changing U.S. law to eliminate automatic immigration hearings for Central American kids and return them more quickly to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where some areas are overrun by brutal gangs.
With Democrats and the White House under growing pressure from immigration advocates to hold firm against the GOP approach, a solution for the growing crisis presented by tens of thousands of unaccompanied children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border is looking increasingly elusive with three weeks left before Congress leaves for its annual August recess.
"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-Miami, who traveled to Honduras and Guatemala over the weekend with members of the House GOP working group, including its leader, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas. "Time is of the essence."
Granger, Diaz-Balart and others said their proposals would include sending the National Guard to help overwhelmed Border Patrol agents, increasing the number of immigration judges, adding assistance to Central American nations and changing a 2008 trafficking victims law that guarantees hearings for Central American youths. The law has the practical result of letting the young people stay in the country for years as their cases move through the badly backlogged immigration courts.
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 quickly on a smaller spending bill along with the package of policy changes. The recommendations were to be formally released later this week, but lawmakers discussed their broad outlines Tuesday.
In response, Democrats and immigration advocates called for quick action on a "clean" spending bill without controversial policy changes attached. The White House urged speed but did not insist that Congress act only on the spending bill.
"There's already been ample opportunity for Congress to take action, and we want to encourage them to move forward with some sense of urgency," said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared that: "With this money, we can take care of the problem."
Republicans made clear that was out of the question.
"What I will not do is vote for a blank check for the president for something that will not solve the problem," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has written a bill along with fellow Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat, to make some of the same changes the House working group is proposing.
Granger said the average immigration case takes a year and a half to five years to go through the court process, even as more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have arrived at the border since October. "That's just not acceptable, so we've got to change that," she said.
With Republicans refusing to support a border spending bill without major policy changes attached and Democrats refusing to support one with them, any final outcome was unclear with November midterm elections approaching.
Meanwhile, the children keep coming, with 90,000 expected by the end of the fiscal year. They flee violence but might also be drawn by rumors that once here, they can stay.