WASHINGTON U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Thursday expressed support for changes to immigration law that would let the United States deport Central American children crossing into the country illegally as quickly as it does Mexican children.
U.S. law allows Mexican minors to be sent back promptly, although there are some steps those children can take to try to remain in the United States. A 2008 victims trafficking law requires that children from countries not bordering the United States, including those in Central America, be given added legal protections before they are deported.
"I think we all agree that the non-contiguous countries that now we're required to hold those people, I think clearly we would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico,” Boehner told reporters.
In a letter to congressional leaders last week, President Barack Obama proposed giving the Department of Homeland Security additional authority to process the return and removal of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Obama, battling political pressure to halt the influx of child migrants along the Texas border with Mexico, has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address the crisis.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been pressing for changes but the money is not guaranteed.
"We're not giving the president a blank check," said Boehner, leader of the Republican-controlled House.
The Senate Appropriations Committee scheduled a hearing on the request Thursday afternoon.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from the three countries have been caught trying to sneak over the border since October, double the number from the same period the year before.
Boehner said the House should act on some sort of immigration legislation this month. He has formed a working group of lawmakers to study options.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)