Updated 2:19 p.m. | The House GOP working group tasked with making policy recommendations on how to manage the influx of unaccompanied child migrants on the Southwest border will hand off its formal report to Republican leaders on Thursday, members confirmed.
The proposals contained in that report – which isn’t likely to be made public until next week, according to an aide familiar with the working group – will help the House Appropriations Committee finalize its bill to provide funding to stem the border crisis.
Outstanding disagreements about topline numbers, offsets and controversial policy riders, however, still leave the chances for House passage of an appropriations package before the August recess tenuous at best. A member of the working group, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., told reporters Thursday morning that the group was getting ready to transmit a report of recommendations that would call for revisions to a 2008 anti-trafficking law, closely mirroring language contained in legislation introduced earlier this week by two Texans: Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
Specifically, the tweaks – considered deal-breakers by a growing number of Democrats -- would allow all unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to choose to return to their home countries rather than await trial to be deported, a choice currently afforded only to children from Mexico and Canada.
“We’re trying to move a package that actually changes the dynamic and will get to the president’s desk, that’s what we’re trying to do right now,” said Salmon, one of seven members of the special Republican task force appointed by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
“The direction we’re going in is good,” said the group’s chairwoman, Texas Rep. Kay Granger, “so it should be today.”
In describing next steps, Salmon said it is his “understanding” that the supplemental spending package to address the border crisis would be “less than half” of the Obama administration’s initial $3.7 billion request. He said the package would be for fiscal 2014 only and deemed as non-emergency spending, which means the funds would need to be offset with comparable discretionary cuts elsewhere.
But House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Thursday that the funding would stretch through the end of the calendar year and that he has not yet determined whether it would be designated as emergency spending.
"It remains to be seen whether offsets are required or not. We're prepared in case they are,” Rogers told reporters.
He said the decision would ultimately be based on the working group’s specific policy recommendations and a read of GOP conference. Many of the conference’s most conservative members have said they won’t vote for any funding bill that isn’t paid for.
Policy Recommendations Along with including legislative language revisiting the 2008 law, the group will also recommend putting National Guard troops on the Southwest border, as well as more immigration judges, according to Salmon. Having more judges would give the children a hearing within five to seven days after being apprehended at the border, he said, effectively ending a practice known as “catch and release.”
“We’re doing everything we can do to accelerate the process. One of the things that we found is that it takes so long, and so we looked at everything we can do to accelerate that, and more judges will help,” Granger said of hiring new judges. Neither Granger nor Salmon specified how many new judges the working group plans to recommend.
In addition, said Salmon, the working group will recommend allowing Border Patrol officers on federal lands along the border, including designated “wilderness areas.” Some Republicans say the Department of the Interior impedes law enforcement efforts in those areas by preventing the use of motorized vehicles, blocking construction of electronic surveillance, and requiring analyses of the environmental effects of enforcement activities.
Salmon said the group will not recommend reversing a 2012 executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants stays of deportation to children brought to the country illegally by the parents.
Thirty-three House Republicans signed a letter earlier this month calling on Obama to end the program, with some co-signers saying Wednesday it would be a deal breaker for them if that language was not included in the border funding bill still currently under review by the House Appropriations Committee.
Salmon said that he personally would like to see a repeal of that executive order, but that “it probably won’t get to the president’s desk if we include that.”
Funding Though the GOP task force is not responsible for making funding recommendations, with its members saying repeatedly they are keeping their work separate from appropriators in that regard, it is widely expected that the group’s policy suggestions will directly affect the topline number and various line items in the final appropriations package.
Rogers on Thursday would not speculate on the timing for House Appropriations finishing its supplemental.
"The money part of the bill is ready to go. We can't absolutely finalize the dollar figure until we see what the policy changes that are being considered by the task force are. So when we receive that info we can proceed,” Rogers said.
At a news conference later on Thursday, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, emphasized that while discussions had been going on all week, there were no final decisions.
Asked whether he thought Congress would pass a funding bill by the end of the month, in time for the extended August recess, Boehner said, “I’d hope so, but I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have.”
Emily Ethridge and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.
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