Congress inaction worsens border crisis

Breanne Deppisch

The clock is ticking for United States congress members, who have less than 42 hours to curb the surge in unaccompanied Central American minors entering the U.S. illegally or risk de facto surrender to a host of potential executive orders. As deadlocked lawmakers scramble to gain support for various reforms, however, it seems increasingly likely that potential compromise has screeched to a halt, and Americans everywhere will suffer at the hands of partisan paralysis.

More than ever, the stakes for Congress are at an all-time high. The beginning of August means the beginning of a month-long recess for our representatives over on Capitol Hill and a window that some argue is much too large for President Barack Obama, who plans to utilize executive action “whenever Congress refuses to act” if given the chance. Based on previous remarks from the president, this plan is likely to entail a lot of money — somewhere in the ballpark of $3 billion — coupled with plans to amend a 2008 anti-trafficking law that prevents immediate immigrant deportation.

Certainly, the strongest objections have been raised by the right. But perhaps more surprising are the voices of opposition from Democrats, many of whom agree that perhaps Obama should leave this issue to Congress rather than act alone in his plans to amend anti-trafficking legislation.

California attorney Kamala Harris agrees, adding, “Anything that is meant to streamline a system for the sake of speed, as opposed to the sake of justice and due process, is something I cannot support." Given their growing hispanic base, Democrats would hardly gain popularity by repealing the 2008 law, and have instead aligned with migrant advocates such as Harris.

And Republicans would be loath to approve the proposed multi-billion-dollar emergency funding initiative, which essentially cushions the 57,000 underage migrants who have crossed the border illegally since last October. “What the president’s essentially asking for is a blank check,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, the Speaker of the House. “He just wants us to throw more money at the problem without doing anything to solve the underlying crisis.”

While undoubtedly contributing to the stubborn partisan standoff, Boehner’s rigid stance is one that seems to be taken by many , including State Department members from Obama’s own administration. While visiting U.S. Department officials in Honduras and Guatemala, Rep. Kay Granger, R-TX, said the officials agreed with the need to change the law to better deal with the situation on the border.

“The State Department people that work for us, work for our government, agree that the law needs to be changed, and certain steps taken,” Granger said. But with less than a week left to compromise, Congress knows it must act quickly, or else risk being overstepped by executive order.

So who’s to blame for all the inaction in Congress? Ever illustrating the perils of party polarization, both Democrats and Republican have been quick to blame the other side. House Republicans refuse to sign off on funding without the promise of policy change, namely the 2008 law to which they have long since expressed opposition. And both sides in the Senate have implicitly green-lighted a mitigated portion of funding to help solve the problem in the ballpark of $2 million, though many agree that change to the 2008 law must accompany the funds.

In other words, both sides have their demands and neither is particularly willing to meet the other in the middle.

To be fair, Obama’s powers in this situation are somewhat limited . He can’t, for example, increase green card eligibility. He can’t enact blanket legislation that would somehow legalize throngs of undocumented immigrants, despite some of the more hyperbolic right-wing critiques. Rather, executive actions would likely be a bit more subtle. He could move to continue housing facilities or increase resources for legal processes — free access to a lawyer for deportation hearings, for example.

But as Congress fumbles its way through legislative gray areas, the public continues to lament. “There’s so much real potential for change,” says Cori Baker, journalism senior at UT. “It’s hard when it’s all lost at the hands of a political game.”

Partisan gridlock has long plagued the halls of Congress, and Americans are no strangers to the woes of a stalemated Senate. But this issue is one that needs immediate attention. As our leaders finagle over the particulars of emergency funding and nuances in legislation, our country suffers: Approximately 57,000 children have crossed the border illegally since October. These are staggering statistics; and their severity is not lost on the American public.

“On NPR the other day, they were quoting the exact number of Central American immigrants,” sociology senior Masha Romanov said. “It was shocking. To hear that our government can’t come together to resolve a crisis like that, it makes you wonder, what can they do?”

This is an issue which must be tended to with diligence and immediacy. It is a humanitarian crisis; one whose resolution is ultimately thwarted by lack of clarity within the political process.

Yes, the clock is ticking for Congress, but yet it is the ones outside of Capitol hill — the children, the taxpayers — who suffer most with each passing tick.


Deppisch is a government senior from League City. Follow Deppisch on Twitter @b_deppy.