White House Correspondent
The border bill that was apparently defeated by conservative GOP legislators would have greatly expanded the “unaccompanied alien child” loophole that is now being used by at least 80,000 Central American youths to win legal residency in the United States.
“This takes a problem that is bad, and makes it worse,” a Hill staffer that wished to remain anonymous told The Daily Caller.
In a dramatic confrontation, the bill was pulled from consideration once the GOP leadership could not find enough votes. However, GOP leaders are preparing to bring a revised version to the floor for a vote late this afternoon.
The GOP bill would have allowed youths from Mexico to use the same “unaccompanied alien child” loophole in a 2008 law that is currently offered only to minors traveling from non-contiguous countries, such as Honduras and Guatemala, say conservatives and legal analysts.
The defeated bill expanded the loophole, even though numerous GOP and conservative legislators, plus many conservative activists and a majority of voters, urged it be closed by an amendment to the 2008 law.
The GOP’s leadership, led by House Speaker John Boehner, temporarily abandoned their effort to pass the bill when many conservative legislators balked during intense negotiations on July 30 and July 31.
House Democrats could have allied with Boehner to pass the bill, but they instead choose to let it fail.
The defeat will help Democrats blame the border crisis on the GOP, even though the influx of the 100,000-plus Central Americans began in 2012, amid lax enforcement of the border by President Barack Obama’s border agencies.
Under the flawed 2008 law, so-called UACs from Mexico can be repatriated in a day via a “voluntary return” legal procedure, according to an explanation of the bill shared by conservative legislators and activists.
The new “bill appears to put the majority – if not all – [Mexican UACs] in the new court proceedings,” where they will be exempt from “voluntary return,” and will have five ways to win residency, said the document.
Those major policy changes are hidden by obscure language in the “Secure the Southwest Border Act of 2014,” according to an analysis released by the Center for Immigration Studies.
The bill includes “a cornucopia of options by which UACs can ensure that they are never returned to their country of nationality,” the CIS report says.
For example, the bill amends the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act by “altering the bright-line distinction between UACs from countries that are contiguous, versus noncontiguous, to the United States,” says the CIS report.
“It does this specifically by inserting instead the phrase, ‘Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and any other foreign country that the Secretary determines appropriate’ where the word ‘contiguous’ was previously used,” said the CIS report.
The bill also created a new legal process that pressures judges to grant residency to youths.
Section 103 created a new court procedure that allows each UAC to win a green card unless the immigration judge can show it would be “manifestly unjust.”
That was just one of five opportunities that any and all UACs would be allowed to seek green cards.
“The House bill allows five bites at the apple for those claiming asylum,” according to the explanation of the bill.
“UACs are screened for credible fear by the Border Patrol; UACs go before an immigration judge in the new court proceeding to determine if they have a claim for relief; UACs are screened by an asylum officer for a credible fear of persecution; UACs then have their asylum case adjudicated by any asylum officer who can only grant relief or refer the case to immigration court; and If a UAC’s case is referred, the immigration judge will hear their case on the merits de novo,” read the explanation.
Also, the bill ensured that the number of youths who can claim to be UACs will rise because of a new definition hidden in a section about the use of the National Guard on the border.
Current law says youths who have parents or guardians in the United States don’t get the legal advantage of being called UACs. For example, “when children who arrived unaccompanied are released to their parents [living in the United States], they cease to be UACs,” said CIS.
But the new bill defined UACs as illegals younger than 18 for whom “no parent or legal guardian in the United States is available to provide care and physical custody.”
The bill also requires that more youths be detained pending completion of their case.
That new definition meant that detained youths would be classified as UACs — even if they arrive with their parents — because they could not be transferred to the custody of their parents while they’re being detained.
The bill’s sponsors said the bill was intended to speed up court proceedings needed to deport migrant youths from Central America.
It required judges “to issue decisions within 72 hours of conclusion of the hearing… [but] there is no indicator of exactly how long such a hearing may be prolonged,” said the CIS report.