WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sought to patch over another deep rift and pass revised border security legislation on Friday, hoping to persuade voters they are acting to tackle the growing crisis over child migrants from Central America.
Tougher language in the twin bills would make it easier to deport migrant children, add money to deploy National Guard troops at the border with Mexico and largely reverse President Barack Obama’s policy of deferring action against minors brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
The changes were intended to satisfy conservative House Republican lawmakers who withdrew their support on Thursday amid a revolt instigated by Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party firebrand from Texas. In an embarrassing defeat, House Speaker John Boehner canceled a vote on Thursday after support collapsed.
The revised bills are due to be considered by the House on Friday night. But even if they pass, they have virtually no chance of becoming law. The U.S. Senate is certain to ignore them after failing to advance its own $2.7 billion border funding measure.
Obama, calling the new House language “extreme and unworkable,” vowed a veto on Friday.
With the border legislation still unfinished as Congress prepares to leave Washington for a five-week recess, Obama said he would shift funds from other accounts to pay for enhanced border security and the care and feeding of thousands of detained migrant children.
“I‘m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources,” Obama told reporters. “We’ve already been very clear. We’ve run out of money.”
One of the House bills proposes $694 million in additional funding for border security and to care for children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have flooded over the border in recent months. The latest version adds $35 million to reimburse states that deploy National Guard troops to secure the border.
The other bill aims to speed the return of children to their home countries while also reversing much of Obama’s two-year-old policy that suspended deportation efforts against children brought to the United States illegally by their parents before mid-2007.
A key demand of many Republicans was to stop the administration from admitting child migrants into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Many Republicans blame that program for encouraging families in Central America to send unaccompanied minors on treacherous journeys to the U.S. border.
In a reversal, the measure would prohibit those who have already been given a reprieve from deportation from renewing their status when it expires after two years.
The revived House vote, expected on Friday evening, is largely aimed at aiding Republican lawmakers’ re-election efforts by allowing them to claim that they acted to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, while Obama and Senate Democrats stood idle.
The child migrant crisis, with nearly 60,000 minors arriving at the U.S. border since October, has become an increasingly hot topic ahead of the mid-term elections in November.
“This will change the immigration debate and it will change the decisions that are made by people in Central America,” Tea Party-backed Representative Michelle Bachmann said of the revised legislation, which she now supports.
The Republicans have been trying to present a united front against Obama to energize Republican voters ahead of the November elections, including a move this week to sue him in federal court for allegedly overstepping his legal authority.
But Thursday’s vote collapse laid bare the same deep divisions between the Republican party’s establishment and its conservative Tea Party wing that led to last year’s bitter fight over a government shutdown.
The Republican vs. Republican feud could worsen in September, when Boehner will have two hot-button issues to navigate through the House: a return to the border funding issue and a stop-gap spending bill to keep government agencies open in the new fiscal year.
This week’s dust-up in the House may give Democrats a new opening to remind voters - and Democratic donors - of the Tea Party’s influence over Republicans.
They also attacked the revised Republican plan as putting at risk the children of undocumented immigrants, often known as “dreamers,” who have grown up in the United States. The Republican push could aggravate immigrant communities that have been hoping for comprehensive reforms.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bill Trott, Frances Kerry and Ken Wills