The specially appointed House GOP border surge working group is poised to submit its formal policy recommendations to party leaders, while two of its members appear to be pursuing alternate tracks.
On Thursday, Reps. John Carter of Texas and Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia introduced separate bills that would make more conservative revisions to current immigration law than many of their peers on either side of the aisle would prefer.
The bills would also tack farther to the right than the set of recommendations expected to be put forth by the GOP working group to address the child migrant crisis at the Southwest border. Legislation from Carter, who is also the chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, would revise a 2008 trafficking law that made it more difficult to deport unaccompanied Central American minors apprehended at the border. Carter’s bill would allow all immigrant children to voluntarily remove themselves back to their home countries, plus allow immigration enforcement officials to detain children while they wait for deportation hearings.
The measure — co-sponsored by senior GOP appropriators Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama and Jack Kingston of Georgia — also would require immigration enforcement officials to investigate people taking custody of undocumented immigrant children to determine whether they are being compensated by drug smugglers and reaffirm that taxpayer dollars don’t pay for undocumented immigrants’ legal representation.
Goodlatte’s bill would establish tougher standards for asylum seekers, consistent with the Judiciary chairman’s repeated cries for government crackdowns on asylum fraud.
Co-sponsored by a handful of other Judiciary Committee conservatives, such as Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Goodlatte’s predecessor, Lamar Smith of Texas, it contains some provisions consistent with what is expected to be recommended by the working group, including allotting more immigration judges and giving Border Patrol officers access to federal lands along the border.
But it would require immigrants seeking asylum status to apply within one year of entry into the United States. It also would remove the “preferred status” afforded to unaccompanied immigrant minors who want refuge.
According to many members familiar with the working group’s forthcoming report, proposed tweaks to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 would mirror legislation dropped earlier this week by two Texas lawmakers: Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
The language of their companion bills would only allow all immigrant children to volunteer for deportation and expedite the process by which removal hearings were held and decisions were rendered for those seeking asylum in the U.S. — and even that language would be too strong for a growing number of House Democrats.
Aides for both Carter and Goodlatte, however, said their bills should not be interpreted as repudiations to the group’s work, overseen by chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas. In fact, the aides said, both of their bosses have put their signatures on the forthcoming report.
A Carter spokeswoman told CQ Roll Call the lawmaker had been working on this bill for a long time but that he felt the time was now right for its introduction, intending for it to complement the task force’s work but also “to show how he thinks we should solve this crisis.”
A spokeswoman for Goodlatte said his bill “is meant to guide further deliberations in the House.”
“The recommendations document is a list of recommendations only,” said the spokeswoman, “and not an actual bill.”
Though the working group members have been focused only on making policy proposals to stem the border crisis, those suggestions are expected to be integrated into a funding bill still being crafted by the Appropriations Committee at the behest of President Barack Obama’s $3.7 billion request.
Appropriators have been waiting for the recommendations to finalize topline numbers for programs and resources needed to bolster safety and security at the border.
Carter’s and Goodlatte’s legislative proposals, while not full-scale revolts against the working group’s report, still presents alternatives that could split a House Republican Conference already fractured on the immigration debate, and at a moment when leaders are nervously watching the clock to see if a border funding bill can passed at all before the month-long August recess gets underway.
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