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Trump punts to Congress to solve the migrant influx

Posted at 10:11 AM, Apr 04, 2019

Amid a swell of migrants at the southern border, President Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have looked to Congress to take action, and while lawmakers agree something should be done, that's about all they agree on.

Democrats don't trust the administration and see what's unfolding as a situation exacerbated by Trump's aggressive immigration enforcement policies. Republicans are doubling down on the situation being a crisis in need of immediate attention.

The reason for the scramble is a steep uptick of migrants — largely families and children and predominantly from Northern Triangle countries, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — at the border.

As DHS deploys reinforcements to the border, it's also urged Congress to find a legislative solution. What that looks like is anyone's guess.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, is in the preliminary stages of crafting legislation with his Republican colleagues to redirect more resources to the Customs and Border Protection agency.

"We have to acknowledge it's a crisis," Rogers, R-Alabama, told CNN.

Rogers has spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the situation along the border, according to his office.

The administration has repeatedly punted to Congress on the issue of immigration and many others. But what exactly officials, and more notably, the President, are looking for remains unclear given that the proposals they've so far pushed forward would be a non-starter for Democrats.

Trump added more urgency to the issue when he threatened Tuesday that unless a deal was reached in Congress, he would close the southern border. Nielsen last week sent a letter to Congress proposing deporting unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle more quickly, and extending the amount of time families can be held in detention -- all of which were met with immediate criticism from Democrats.

CNN reached out to members of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over some immigration matters.

"No," said Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat, when asked if she would consider either of the proposals laid out by Nielsen.

"We can't imprison all these families," she added. "Now we're talking internment."

Clarke called the surge of migrants at the border a crisis of the administration's "own making," saying that she believes the administration has enough funding to deal with the current influx, but has instead been "singularly" focused on building a wall.

"It's a real conundrum," she said.

"The administration has proven itself to be ill-equipped and ill-prepared to manage the department of Homeland Security and this particular situation is due to its own ineptitude," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

House Democrats leading relevant committees also criticized the administration and its policies in a letter to Nielsen, adding that the administration "needs to engage Congress on policies designed to promote safe and orderly migration flow."

To that end, there appears to be a consensus among Democrats and Republicans around allocating personnel and resources along the southern border and working with Central American countries to help stem the flow of migrants.

On Wednesday, Sens. Gary Peters and John Cornyn introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at staffing up ports of entry around the country.

Still, there are underlying differences between lawmakers that would make the passage of any legislation challenging. Regular criticism among Democrats and immigration advocates, for example, is that the administration's aggressive immigration policies, like "zero tolerance," which led to the separation of families and limiting the number of people who can apply for asylum daily, caused the crisis.

"The situation at the southern border is further proof President Trump's border security and immigration policies are a complete failure, and his Administration deserves much of the blame for making this humanitarian crisis worse," said House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson in a statement.

Republicans say Democrats simply don't want to act.

"Despite all the mounting evidence, (Democrats) still refuse to acknowledge the situation for what it really is -- a crisis," said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas. "So instead of attempting to find a solution, they're strictly focused on messaging resolutions. This truly is a huge crisis -- how many people do they need to hear it from? Stop making this a political football and work with us to fix it."

Arizona Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko told CNN that it's important to look at changing the asylum laws and the ability to deport people from Central America in the same way that's done with Mexican migrants.

"I absolutely agree that Congress needs to change the immigration laws. The President has done about everything he can do and now Congress really does need to act," she said.

However, when asked about the possibility of closing the ports to address the situation, she said she needed more information.

"Obviously Arizona and Mexico are huge trading partners, so shutting down trade would have an adverse effect on Arizona's economy," said Lesko.

Late last month, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan the agency was on pace to encounter "over 100,000" migrants in March alone. "March will be the highest month since 2008," he added. It's not just a surge numbers, but a shift in demographics that they say is straining resources from single adults from Mexico to families and children from Central America.

"With continued inaction by Congress -- it's going to continue to put people at risk," said McAleenan. "The men and women of CBP are serving with honor despite stark challenges -- but we need Congress to act."