President Barack Obama sent senior members of his administration -
including two Cabinet secretaries - to convince senators to back his
request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the crisis.
(Graphic: U.S. border crisis http://reut.rs/1tNznQn)
After the meeting, several lawmakers said a sticking point in
discussions of the funding request was how to deal with the 2008
law, which gives undocumented children from Central America - or any
country that does not share a border with the United States - extra
protections when they are picked up after crossing the frontier.
Many Republicans said they would not approve Obama's emergency
funding request if the law were not changed to eliminate legal
requirements that keep the children from being quickly deported.
But many Democrats insisted the measures should remain in place for
humanitarian reasons, even though administration officials have said
they are open to changing the law.
"By and large, these are children under the age of 12. You would
never walk into a courtroom anywhere in America and say to a child:
'Get up there and take the oath, and decide your fate and your
future," Illinois Senator Richard Durbin said after the briefing,
explaining why he opposed efforts to eliminate the legal
protections, include guaranteeing them counsel.
Congressional leaders have said they want to act on Obama's request
this month, before they leave for their August recess. Republicans
and Democrats both said the government needed to act quickly, noting
the steep cost of the influx. Administration officials told the
lawmakers during the briefing that housing the children cost $250 to
$1,000 per child per day.
"It's a figure that I thought was shocking," Florida Republican
Senator Marco Rubio told reporters. "The whole room you heard
murmuring. People were shocked at the costs associated with this."
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Jeh Johnson, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, told reporters
after the briefing that 63 of the 100 senators had attended. He
would not elaborate on the briefing, adding only: "It was a
thoughtful and substantive discussion."
Honduran officials called on Wednesday for U.S. aid to Central
America to reduce violence that has fueled the surge of child
migration. The foreign minister called for a "mini-Marshall Plan" to
attack broader underlying problems, a reference to the U.S. aid
package that helped rebuild Europe after World War Two.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met separately with Hispanic
Democratic lawmakers to discuss how to handle the 57,000 children,
mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, who have come
across the border with Mexico.
Many Democrats insisted the current law allowed the administration
to deal with the emergency, and that it did not need to be changed.
"While I support his supplemental, I do not support changing the
law," New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters after attending
the Hispanic caucus meeting.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Jeff
Mason; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Doina Chiacu and
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