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The Border Crisis Requires Presidential Leadership

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JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

Co-authored by Laura Collins, Director of Immigration Policy at the American Action Forum

The border crisis presents the president with a clear choice between election-year politics and solving real problems. The heartbreaking scenes at the border have been the focus of national attention for the past two months, and it is clear that inaction is not an option. Instead, Congress needs to act before it leaves for an extended recess beginning in August. The federal agencies responding to the border crisis will need additional funding before the end of the fiscal year, and a plan must be enacted to speed the processing of the unaccompanied minors from Central America.

President Obama's initial move was a bloated $3.7 billion request for emergency spending -- new spending he does not intend to offset with other cuts. The funding request also is silent on legislative changes to a 2008 human trafficking law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which has contributed to the extra costs and the delays in processing the unaccompanied minors through the immigration system.

Senate Democrats immediately pared down the proposed spending by $1 billion, but its $2.7 billion plan also does not include spending offsets. House Republicans proposed a significantly smaller spending package at around $1.5 billion, with offsets, to get the agencies through the end of the fiscal year.

The level of spending and the need for offsets is one area for negotiation. But the more contentious issue will be changes to the 2008 human trafficking law. In a letter to Congress on June 30, the president indicated he was open to giving Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson more discretion in processing and removing the unaccompanied minors in order to relieve the backlog. That is not exactly an endorsement of legislative changes. Senate Democrats are opposed to changing the 2008 law.

The House Republicans' plan changes the law that would allow the unaccompanied minors the option of voluntary removal or an expedited immigration hearing. This is a solid fix that keeps in place the protections for true victims of human trafficking while clearing the backlog of those who would not qualify for refuge.

To date, the White House has continued its pattern of being unwilling to actually solve border problems. As The Washington Post recently reported, the administration was warned about the growing border crisis multiple times since 2012. Obama could have acted to prevent this from becoming the terrible humanitarian crisis it is today. He failed to lead on this issue. Now he has requested emergency funding without a solid or credible plan for how to combat this surge of immigrants. There is no administration-led strategy on how to expedite processing of the unaccompanied minors. The spending proposal is simply a vague request for taxpayers to fund the status quo.

House Speaker John Boehner asked the president to clarify what changes he would support to the 2008 law. In response, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz referred reporters back to the June 30 letter and added, "[b]ut first and foremost, we need the resources -- in the form of judges, prosecutors, asylum officers -- to deal with the problems." He later added that the President is calling on Congress to pass his supplemental funding request.

Action is needed. The president cannot simply stonewall and insist only on his $3.7 billion funding request. The House has put forward an actual plan to address the large numbers of unaccompanied minors. The Senate has moved toward fiscal reality. Obama has a choice: he can work with House Republicans to pass solutions, or he can refuse to compromise and let the border crisis fester.

 
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