WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Time and money are running out as Congress struggles to address to the flood of unaccompanied children being smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border.
After weeks of finger-pointing, the race is on to do something before the August recess. The administration has warned that due to the strain on resources caused by the border crisis, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will run out of money by the middle of August, followed by Customs and Border Protection by mid-September.
"Why aren't we having a vote?" Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) demanded on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Senate Democrats are asking for $2.7 billion in emergency funding, $1 billion less than the amount requested by President Barack Obama earlier this month. The money would go to house and speed up processing children and families, as well as to beef up border security. Yet Republicans argue money alone won't solve the problem.
"If you have a humanitarian crisis and you need more money to deal with it, we all understand that," said Cornyn. "But if you're unwilling to take the step to fix the basic problem that's created the crisis, that strikes me as problematic."
Cornyn has filed a bill with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). The "HUMANE Act" would modify a 2008 law requiring an extended legal process for trafficked children not from Mexico or Canada. On Wednesday, Cornyn presented a list of statements from Democrats and White House officials he says support the basic concept.
"Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has said that the administration wants to change the 2008 law at the center of the crisis," claimed Cornyn.
"Right now what we have in mind is treating migrants, unaccompanied migrants from the three Central American countries, which are what we call non-contiguous countries, as being from contiguous countries," Johnson testified before a Senate committee July 10. "Right now we have the discretion to offer an unaccompanied child from a contiguous country, i.e. Mexico, the ability to accept a voluntary return. And a lot of them actually do."
A Republican working group in the House released its own recommendations Wednesday, which include similar changes to the 2008 law and National Guard assistance. Rep. John Carter (R-TX) of Round Rock, a member of the working group, says quickly returning the children to their home countries will lower the overall price tag.
"We're paying $500 a day to military posts right now, and you ask them what it costs them to take care of kids in Honduras, and they said $10 a day," said Carter. "That's quite a bit of difference."
The hang-up is that many Democrats are hesitant to send children straight back to countries in violent turmoil, but Republicans don't want to spend any money without policy changes. Cornyn wrapped up remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday suggesting a passable bill will include elements that induce heartburn for each political party, yet there will also be common ground.
"'We need to get the resources to the Border Patrol agents and others who are caring for these children, we need judges to hear these kids' cases and decide whether they need protection or need to be sent home,'" said Cornyn, reading a previous statement made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "I agree with the Majority Leader when he said that. So let's do it."