Law­mak­ers bat­tle over il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion

Yuma Sun - - OPINION -

WASH­ING­TON — Con­gress’ fight over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s aban­doned pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies has stirred anew, draw­ing fresh at­ten­tion to an is­sue that has di­vided Repub­li­cans and that Democrats hope will pro­pel vot­ers their way in the midterm elec­tions.

The bat­tling at the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee on Wednes­day un­der­scored how both par­ties still see vast po­lit­i­cal po­tency in im­mi­gra­tion, even as con­gres­sional votes have shown that par­ti­san dif­fer­ences and di­vi­sions within the GOP make it un­likely any­thing will reach Trump’s desk soon.

“We have to try to keep it up front as much as we can, be­cause it’s im­por­tant,” Rep. Jose Ser­rano, D-N.Y., said of Democrats’ at­tempts to end fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions. “The whole world is watch­ing on this one. It’s not just us.”

Repub­li­cans on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions panel bat­ted down Demo­cratic pro­pos­als that un­der­cut the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy of pros­e­cut­ing and de­tain­ing mi­grants caught en­ter­ing the U.S. One plan would have blocked money for tent cities to house un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren.

But in a tacit ad­mis­sion that Trump’s ac­tions have left them po­lit­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled com­mit­tee ac­cepted oth­ers. That in­cluded one re­quir­ing a govern­ment plan for track­ing and re­unit­ing chil­dren separated from their fam­i­lies and im­pos­ing a $100,000-a-day fine — im­per­cep­ti­ble by fed­eral stan­dards — if it doesn’t pro­duce one.

With roughly two dozen Demo­cratic amend­ments in play, Repub­li­cans fired back with one of their own.

They won party-line ap­proval of lan­guage let­ting fed­eral of­fi­cials hold chil­dren for more than 20 days when their par­ents face le­gal ac­tion for unau­tho­rized en­try to the U.S. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to elim­i­nate that court-im­posed 20-day limit so it can de­tain en­tire fam­i­lies as it en­forces its “zero-tol­er­ance” pol­icy.

“All it does is keep fam­i­lies to­gether while we’re in the process of ad­ju­di­ca­tion,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the mea­sure’s spon­sor.

Democrats say the ad­min­is­tra­tion should let such fam­i­lies go un­til they must ap­pear in court, and say keep­ing chil­dren and par­ents in cus­tody for such of­fenses is cruel, even if they’re to­gether. Some Repub­li­cans have also op­posed the idea of hold­ing fam­i­lies un­til their cases are re­solved.

“It trades one ab­hor­rent pol­icy for an­other,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The House re­jected two GOP im­mi­gra­tion bills last month, and the Se­nate re­jected three plans in Fe­bru­ary — two bi­par­ti­san bills and a third bear­ing Trump’s hard-line views.

The House com­mit­tee fight was over amend­ments to a mas­sive spend­ing bill fi­nanc­ing health, ed­u­ca­tion and la­bor pro­grams, a per­pet­u­ally con­tro­ver­sial mea­sure that gets de­layed ev­ery year. The GOP pro­vi­sion end­ing the 20-day limit on hold­ing chil­dren, iden­ti­cal to lan­guage in one of the re­jected im­mi­gra­tion bills, would only com­pli­cate pas­sage fur­ther.

Sen­a­tors have been talk­ing be­hind the scenes in hopes of pro­duc­ing a bi­par­ti­san mea­sure aimed at fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion, but so far they’ve not re­ported an agree­ment. House Repub­li­cans have been try­ing to pro­duce a fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion mea­sure they can push through their cham­ber but also have been un­able to so far.

The is­sue has been over­shad­owed in re­cent days by Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy’s re­tire­ment and Trump’s nom­i­na­tion of Judge Brett Ca­vanaugh to re­place him on the Supreme Court. But Democrats are show­ing lit­tle in­ter­est in let­ting pub­lic at­ten­tion fade on the sep­a­ra­tion of fam­i­lies.

The fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions, which have spawned vir­tu­ally daily doses of heart-rend­ing sto­ries and pic­tures of weep­ing chil­dren and moth­ers, give Democrats an op­por­tu­nity to re­peat Trump’s den­i­gra­tion of im­mi­grants. Democrats view that as a way to win over mod­er­ate vot­ers in sub­ur­ban swing dis­tricts that could de­ter­mine House con­trol in Novem­ber.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

IN THIS JUNE 8, 2017, FILE PHOTO, OIL DER­RICKS ARE BUSY PUMP­ING as the moon rises near the La Paloma Gen­er­at­ing Sta­tion in McKit­trick, Calif. The U.S. is on pace to leapfrog both Saudi Ara­bia and Rus­sia as the world’s big­gest oil pro­ducer.

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