Opting for the preposterous when summoned to do the practical, House Republicans rallied Wednesday behind a measure to sue President Obama, then threw up their hands Thursday when called on to resolve the crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors streaming across the southwestern border. Having postponed its planned Friday adjournment, the House now faces the choice of redeeming itself by acting on the humanitarian emergency or slinking away in disgrace.
The Republican immigration effort in the House was derailed by tea party backbenchers who, at the behest of their champion, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, refused to support any bill that did not also pre-emptively bar President Barack Obama from shielding more undocumented immigrants from deportation. In service to partisan warfare against the president, conservatives opted to do nothing for the Central American children who continue to risk their lives crossing Mexico and entering the United States.
Senate Democrats did not look much more determined to deal with the immediate problem. What they had in mind, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., was to use any legislation that passed the House as a vehicle to force negotiations over broader immigration reform legislation that the Senate approved last year.
That was a good bill, and it deserves to become law. But Reid knows full well that, as a matter of political reality, it’s a nonstarter with House Republicans. By injecting last year’s immigration bill into the current attempt to stanch the flow of underage border-crossers, Reid seemed intent on denying Republicans the chance to claim credit for anything constructive on immigration.
Incredibly, both sides are digging in their heels in a place precisely calibrated to confound any near-term chance of compromise with one another. And so the current crop of lawmakers reaffirms its notorious inability to solve problems — even an urgent one, which the current crisis surely is.
In the face of Obama’s $3.7 billion request to deal with the underage migrants, House Republicans on Tuesday proposed a cheaper and shorter-term fix — $659 million over two months. (The president’s bill would have extended over 15 months.) In addition to providing funding for the Border Patrol and more immigration judges to handle the current influx, the GOP bill would also have made deportations of minors from Central America easier by removing special protections that were extended to them under a 2008 law intended to combat human trafficking.
That was the rub for Senate Democrats, who think immigration judges, not Border Patrol agents, should handle asylum claims from the youthful immigrants, many of whom are fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. As a practical matter, that has meant housing thousands of children in temporary shelters and placing them for indefinite periods with relatives and private sponsors while their cases await adjudication.
The truth is this country cannot maintain a policy that encourages vulnerable Central American children to risk their lives in a highly dangerous trek north. It’s politically unsustainable and morally indefensible. What’s needed, immediately, are resources to handle the influx at the border and accelerate the adjudication of their cases. Congress’ failure to provide them would be nothing short of shameful.