Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will meet with Blue Dog Democrats on Monday evening, sources confirmed to CQ Roll Call, as the Democratic Caucus writ large struggles to coalesce around a response to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Johnson's meeting on Capitol Hill with the fiscal conservative contingent of the House Democratic Caucus comes as one the coalition's own, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, prepares to offer controversial legislation that would make significant revisions to a 2008 trafficking law that Republicans are saying would help alleviate the border crisis. The core provision in the legislation, which will have a companion in the Senate sponsored by Texas Republican John Cornyn, will be permission for all immigrant children apprehended at the border to voluntarily return home to their families, rather than await deportation hearings.
Cuellar, Cornyn and others argue there's no reason why child migrants from Central America can't be afforded the same privileges as those from countries contiguous to the U.S., such as Mexico and Canada. Opponents, especially those hailing from the Congressional Hispanic and Progressive caucuses, counter that expanding self-deportation rights to children from non-contiguous countries would result in sending young people back to places where they won't be safe, which the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 sought to address.
As members of the minority parties in their respective chambers, Cuellar and Cornyn won't stand much of a chance of seeing their bills move through the pipeline. In the House, however, Cuellar's bill is significant in that it mirrors what Republicans might want to see included in the legislative package appropriating potentially billions of dollars to bolster border resources. The GOP could use his legislative push as evidence that there is bipartisan support for its position, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying a revision to the 2008 trafficking law wouldn't be a "deal-breaker" for her to vote on the ultimate appropriations package and President Barack Obama saying, too, that he was open to discussions on the matter. Cuellar's bill is also set to drop on Tuesday, the same day that the Republican border surge task force is expected to present its first set of recommendations to the conference.
Cuellar's colleagues have already started to slam him for his efforts , with Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas, on July 11 undermining Cuellar's affiliation and characterizing him as an outlier whose views don't reflect anybody else's. So if Cuellar wants to pick up Democratic support, it's likely to come from his fellow 18 members of the Blue Dog Coalition.
The Blue Dogs' meeting tonight with Johnson could be pivotal to that end.