WASHINGTON — Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, who heads a Republican House of Representatives working group on the southern border crisis, offered recommendations Wednesday that she called “common-sense, compassionate but tough solutions” to deal with the surge of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children illegally entering the country.
The report combines support for get-tough measures such as speedier deportations and deploying the National Guard with concerns about child trafficking. It also calls for changing a 2008 sex-trafficking law that treats those entering illegally who are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador differently from those who are from Mexico, in order to quickly process and deport those crossing the border illegally.
It comes as lawmakers are wrestling with how to deal with what’s become a humanitarian crisis — with children traveling on the tops of rail cars in what’s known as the “train of death” — and a volatile political issue as communities push back against “amnesty” and housing these children and young families.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tapped Granger, a former mayor of Fort Worth who was elected to Congress in 1996, to lead a group of seven members in developing a balanced approach to dealing with the influx, which is primarily in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
“Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children, and it has remained a top priority throughout this process,” Granger said in a statement after a private meeting Wednesday with the House Republican Conference.
Over the past two weeks, her group visited the Texas-Mexico border twice and conferred with leaders in Central America.
“In our personal meetings with the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala, they both stated that they wanted their children back, and we believe that is in the best interest of all the countries involved in this crisis,” she said.
Granger, who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and international agencies, has tried to bring a sense of compassion from her side into the debate over children who have endured hardship to come to the U.S., an element that Democrats have sharply criticized Republicans as lacking.
Still, Granger is upholding conservatives’ demands to secure the border.
“Anyone who has been to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley knows that the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing a remarkable job, but they are stretched thin with the massive surge of children crossing the border, and the quickest way to provide relief is by deploying the National Guard,” she said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has already called up 1,000 guardsmen to help the Border Patrol.
Boehner ratcheted up Republicans’ disagreement with the White House over border security Wednesday afternoon in a strongly worded letter to Obama, citing the administration’s failure to support changes to the 2008 law in its $3.7 billion supplemental funding request for the border.
Granger’s recommendation about amending the child trafficking law to treat Central Americans who enter the U.S. illegally the same as those from Mexico mirrors legislation authored by two other Texans: Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar and Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
“Frankly, it is difficult to see how we can make progress on this issue without strong, public support from the White House for much-needed reforms, including changes to the 2008 law,” said Boehner.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., a leading Latino voice in the immigration debate, reacted sharply to Granger’s report.
“The Democrats have children to protect and the Republicans have a crisis to exploit,” he said.
Granger’s Democratic opponent in November, Mark Greene, also critized the GOP report.
“There are more than 50,000 children within our borders seeking refuge from horrific violence and sex trafficking in their home countries,” Greene said. “But the woman who is the leader of the GOP working group studying this crisis doesn’t appear equipped to give any realistic solutions to it.”
House Republicans are pulling together a bill that would provide an additional $1.5 billion for the border crisis, according to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., which is far below the Obama administration’s request. It will incorporate Granger’s recommendations, House GOP aides said, although it’s unclear when it will proceed, with Congress set to leave in early August for its summer recess.
In the Senate, the Democrats, who hold the majority, are working on a $2.7 billion bill for the border that doesn’t amend the child trafficking law. Cornyn, speaking to Texas reporters Wednesday, praised Granger’s work and said “the White House has rejected any effort to negotiate a solution. They just want the money.”
He added: “I’m not in favor of issuing a blank check to the president.”