EL PASO — The congressional debate about how to address the influx of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing illegally into Texas is likely to re-emerge later this year when lawmakers debate an omnibus budget bill, according to a Texas lawmaker.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said Friday during a Border Legislative Conference forum that the issue would not be part of the debate on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded. That resolution is expected to be passed this month.
“We are going to do the CR; we’re not going to do anything dealing with the unaccompanied kids except give the agencies flexibility where they can move monies around,” Cuellar, the lone Texas Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, told reporters. “When the omnibus bill comes up in December, hopefully we can sit down and work something out on that particular aspect.”
Cuellar drew criticism from fellow Democrats after he voted with Republicans in August to expedite the removal of Central American minors. Under current law, unaccompanied minors from countries other than Canada or Mexico who are apprehended by law enforcement must be placed with the Office of Refugee Resettlement after being processed by immigration officials. With Mexican children, voluntary deportation proceedings are usually initiated immediately. The House measure was deemed dead on arrival in the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate.
The gridlock led some to speculate that the issue and a separate push by Republicans, specifically U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, to end the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, could end in a stalemate that prevented the continuing resolution from passing.
But Cuellar suggested that wasn't likely.
And he added that changing the law would not remove any current protections for Central Americans but instead speed up pending court cases because some immigrant children wait years for a court date.
But others argue that the law should be changed to provide more protections for all unaccompanied minors.
“We need to treat Mexican children the way we are currently obligated to treat children from around the world,” U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, told reporters. O’Rourke said most of the Mexican children who are “voluntarily” returned to Mexico are placed directly back into danger. “Best traditions of our country tell us we should honor the due process and make sure we take care of these families and young children. This is something this country has done before and can do right now without any significant strain.”
Cuellar said he understood the sensitivity surrounding the issue but added the country needs to set limits.
“If we provide amnesty to everybody that wants to come in then we have to bring everybody from Africa, we need to bring all the kids from Ukraine, the Middle East,” he said.
Cuellar added that he believes President Obama will eventually exercise his executive authority to change current immigration laws though he criticized the president for abruptly changing his mind on the issue. After promising to act before the summer, Obama said he was going to delay taking action until after the elections. Some Democrats in Congress should share much of the blame, Cuellar said, because the party should have acted on immigration reform when it controlled the Congress.
“We’ve got to have a little fortitude to address the difficult issues,” he said. “Even the Democrats, that had an opportunity, did not do the right thing for the Hispanic community and for the folks that needed to have this.”