Updated with comment from CD1 Republican candidate Gabriela Saucedo Mercer
The eruptions of hysteria surrounding the wave of young migrants from Central America have been distracting, but some members of Congress and the administration are trying to do something about it.
It turns out the two congressmen from Tucson, Democrats Ron Barber and Raúl Grijalva, are split over the latest plan to be introduced, the so-called Cornyn-Cuellar proposal.
The proposal, named for Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, both of Texas, attempts to expedite deportations of children who cross illegally into the United States from non-neighboring countries while preserving some protections for asylum claims.
The bill would allow minor migrants with an asylum claim to have seven days to make that claim. Immigration judges would then have 72 hours to hear it. Without a finding they are entitled to stay, they’d be returned to their home country, be it Honduras, Guatemala or some other country, quickly.
The bill would also add 40 immigration judges to handle just these sorts of cases.
Barber, who is in what’s likely to be a tough re-election race, co-sponsored the bill. On Fox News this week, he said the Obama administration made two mistakes that led to and compounded the migration wave: One was not anticipating it in January or earlier when the trends were clear, and the other was not notifying local officials of the plans to move detained migrants to their areas.
“Those were two big mistakes, but now we have to solve the problem,” Barber said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do by signing onto a bill that was introduced by my colleague from Texas, Congressman Cuellar.”
The Cornyn-Cuellar proposal would change the 2008 law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act, that set up the legal framework that is allowing migrant children from Central America to stay. The law says that children from countries other than Canada and Mexico must get a full immigration hearing before they can be sent back to their home countries.
The problem that turned into a giant loophole is that there is such a backlog of cases in immigration courts that the children could wait more than a year before getting a hearing, and in the meantime, many simply slipped out of site. That’s a factor that may have caused the widespread belief in Central America that “permisos” were available for juvenile migrants to stay in the U.S.
Grijalva told me Thursday that he thinks the acceleration of due process in the Cornyn-Cuellar bill would result in kids being sent back to their deaths, which he doesn’t want on his conscience.
“I don’t want to carry that around,” Grijalva said.
He said that if this bill passes, then he and other progressives will vote against the president’s request for $3.7 billion in new spending to address the crisis.
In a meeting with the president this week, Grijalva said, “We were firm about the fact that if the law is dismantled, we’re going to vote against the supplemental.”
Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have introduced another bill that would add immigration judges and create a separate system for them to adjudicate the cases of these children. It also would require detention, ankle bracelets or some other mechanism to be sure the minors show up in court. Their bill would also make 5,000 refugee visas available to people in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Two of Barber’s potential Republican opponents, Chuck Wooten and Shelley Kais, got back to me Thursday afternoon about their positions on the issue. Kais spokesman Jack Kinnicutt said Kais supports the McCain-Flake bill but hasn’t had time yet to study the Cornyn-Cuellar bill. He reiterated Kais’ accusation that budget documents show the migrant wave was deliberately “planned” by the Obama administration.
In a written statement, Wooten criticized Grijalva’s position of opposing even some of the Democratic White House’s efforts to address the migration crisis. Wooten said Barber’s support of the Cornyn-Cuellar bill “is the right thing to do” but called for “greater action by Mr. Barber” to secure the border.
Barber’s leading challenger, Martha McSally, did not get back Thursday evening with a response.
Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, the Republican who is challenging Grijalva for the second consecutive election, sent me an email Thursday night saying she had not had enough time to study the Cornyn-Cuellar bill but commenting:
Even though on the surface it seems like a good idea to speed up the process to figure out what the federal government will do with these unaccompanied children and teenagers is a good thing. The bill says that there will be funding for forty new immigration judges, will these judges be appointed by the current administration? These judges will probably be bias toward allowing as many of these illegal aliens to remain in the country as possible. They could be here for years before their cases are finalized, so in my opinion the bias should be to return as many as possible to their countries of origin in order to discourage those who have not yet begun their journey northward.
Babeu seeks donations
That didn’t take long.
On Tuesday, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu played peacemaker amid migration-related protests around Oracle. In my column Wednesday morning, I accused Babeu of trying to drum up political support and donations by provoking the protests in the first place.
Wednesday afternoon, he put out an email requesting donations. “Friend,” began the email:
“Yesterday, about 100-150 protesters on each side — supporting and opposing the arrival of 40-60 unaccompanied juveniles from Central America being flown to Arizona — gathered in Oracle. These juveniles are arriving on our doorstep compliments of President Obama. The plan is for them to be indefinitely housed at a group home in Oracle.
“Let me make something very clear: We have enough problems with the drug cartels and illegals in Arizona and don’t need additional illegals sent to us by President Obama.
“The federal government is completely out of control, and we need to hold them accountable. We need to raise $5,000 in the next five days to have the resources necessary to share the news of what’s really happening at our border with fellow patriots across Arizona and the nation. Will you donate $250, $100, $50 or more to help us reach that goal?”
Babeu likes to say he was just being transparent when he told people about the buses coming to Oracle, not stirring up discord.
I have to say I agree: He definitely is transparent.