If you want to see the Senate’s divide on a supplemental spending package to address the flood of unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border , look no further than the chamber’s two whips.
In separate conversations with reporters, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois expressed different concerns about the crisis.
Durbin said he was not comfortable rolling back part of a 2008 trafficking law without first getting some answers about the well-being of the unaccompanied minors who would be sent back to potentially volatile situations in Central America.
“My concern is when it comes to the three countries that are supplying most of the children, we know now that it’s virtually lawless in these countries. We know as well that there’s terrible poverty and violence going on, and I need some assurance that there’s some basic social service infrastructure to protect them,” Durbin said. “God forbid we take a 10-year-old child and turn them back into the streets and they’re murdered, and then have to answer why they had to leave so quickly and why we didn’t take more care in the way we sent them.”
“I want to make sure that the children who are going through this have proper advocacy and representation,” in expulsion proceedings, Durbin said.
Cornyn agreed with the idea that claims should have a forum for adjudication.
“I think there should be an opportunity, if there’s a colorable claim that you’re entitled to some benefit because you’re a victim of sex trafficking or if you’ve got … a colorable claim for asylum, there ought to be some venue for you to make that claim,” Cornyn said. “But, that’s such a small fraction of all of these cases, so I just don’t think you can release people on a promise to appear which is almost never, never fulfilled and expect this to change.”
The number of migrants with such claims is a point of disagreement. Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy said Thursday at an Appropriations Committee hearing on the $3.7 billion immigration portion of the overall $4.3 billion request that the number of children involuntarily displaced may be quite high.
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has found that more than 50 percent of these children have been forcibly displaced from their home countries, fleeing gang-violence, rape, domestic violence and human trafficking,” the Vermont Democrat said. “We routinely ask other countries to support refugees fleeing violence. Now it is our turn. Yes, the situation is complicated. Yes, it requires resources. But a country as great as ours can handle it. We must not return to the shameful days when we shut our doors on refugees because it was complicated to take them in.”
Cornyn is supporting legal revisions and funding coming in a single vehicle.
“My hope is sometime maybe late next week, if not then the next week, we can come up with some package that would make sense,” Cornyn said. “They could combine it in the House and send it over here.”
“My sense is we’re going to have to do something and send it to the White House. [Homeland] Secretary [Jeh] Johnson, from my conversations with him, he understands the problem, but I think the president’s got a political challenge trying to, trying to actually do the policy which they talked about doing and they now say they’re going to send over later. But, there’s no reason … not to fix the hole that’s creating this problem now,” Cornyn added.
“I don’t believe there’s been any active negotiation in terms of language yet” with the White House on the legislative policy language, Durbin said, noting that he had talked about the matter with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Durbin also said he had a conversation with President Barack Obama last week about the possibility of legal changes, which the White House had initially signaled might be pushed along with the emergency spending request
“I told him I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to these kids,” said Durbin. “God forbid some of these children go right back into the hands of murders and rapists and we end up being asked, ‘Well, what was the big hurry, United States of America?'”
Separately, Arizona Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain announced plans to introduce legislation to provide for expedited removal, as well as boost the number of immigration judges and make other changes to expedite processing of claims. It also would increase the availability of refugee visas for those El Salvador, Honduras and Ecuador to use other channels to apply for refugee status.
“This crisis will continue until the parents who paid thousands of dollars to smuggle their children north to the United States see plane — loads of them landing back at home — their money wasted,” McCain said in a statement.