President Obama's failure to adequately address the child immigrant crisis has allowed the problem to fester for months and his proposed legislation while expensive, provides little in the way of policy changes. There are leaders in Congress, however, finally starting to step up in his place.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) introduced legislation on Monday to address this problem. Known as the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act, this bill would permit child immigrants who have a claim to remain legally in the United States to appear in court before an immigration judge within seven days of a completion of a Health and Human Services Screening. Then, an immigration judge would make a decision on whether the child could stay in the U.S. within 72 hours. The Act also authorizes the addition of 40 new immigration judges to alleviate the court backlog.
The HUMANE ACT amends a 2008 anti-trafficking law meant to give migrant children from countries other than Mexico or Canada more legal protections. Known as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act, this legislation is perhaps the biggest contributor to the immigration crisis. The anti-trafficking law ensures that children who come to the United States will get a full immigration hearing to determine if they have a valid case for asylum. The problem is that it often takes years for the children to get a full hearing to the lack of judges and court backlog. By the time the court date arrives, the children are already in school and have made new friends. With more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors already apprehended since October 1 of last year, some may never see the inside of a courtroom. If the HUMANE Act passes, each child could be back home in two weeks assuming the system moves efficiently.
House GOP leaders will also be filing a bill as soon as Thursday and hopes to pass it next week. Indications are the bill will be similar to the HUMANE Act. The House bill will also come with a much cheaper price tag compared to the $3.7 billion the White House asked for last week. While no numbers have been released, cost estimations range between $1 billion and $2 billion. This should make things far easier to swallow for the GOP rank and file than Obama's bill.
With only two weeks before the month-long August, there is little margin for error. But good news has finally arrived on immigration.