Comprehensive immigration reform may be officially dead on Capitol Hill, but the battle over immigration legislation of a different sort has just begun. California lawmakers are split over whether to revise a 2008 trafficking law blamed for the influx of minors over the border.
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act guarantees a hearing for some unaccompanied minors caught crossing the border. Because of a backlog in immigration courts, some children wait as long as three years for a hearing. The law also requires children be placed in foster homes or with a relative. And that news has spread throughout three Central American countries - Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador - prompting the surge across the border.
Republican Congressman Ken Calvert is the latest lawmaker to introduce a bill that allows immediate repatriation as soon as the children are apprehended. "If we fail to take steps like closing this loophole," he says, "the significant challenges we are experiencing now will only continue and grow."
Calvert’s district includes Murrieta, where last week, flag-waving protesters blocked a bus of undocumented detainees from entering a processing center.
Darrell Issa (R-Vista) is a co-sponsor. He says the best resolution to the humanitarian crisis is the safe return of these children to their families and country of origin. "By promptly returning them home to their loved ones it sends a clear message that will discourage other children from making this dangerous trip.”
The 2008 law allows immediate deportation for youths from Mexico and Canada. Co-sponsor Paul Cook (R-Big Bear) says using the same process to return Central American kids to their families will also clear the backlog of immigration casework. "It'll also save taxpayers a lot of money.”
Calvert's other co-sponsors include Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), John Campbell (R-Irvine), and Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). All but Cook and Campbell voted for the original 2008 law designed to fight trafficking. McKeon says, "we probably shouldn’t have done it, the way it’s being played out."
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus opposes any move to water down the original law. Members distanced themselves from Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar, who's introduced his own bill to eliminate hearings. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) joined her colleagues to urge the GOP to pass President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the border surge without strings attached "that will undermine the basic legal protections afforded these children under our laws."
President Obama says he wants "flexibility” to deal with the influx. The CHC will meet with the President next week.