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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama was meeting with Central American leaders Friday to urge them to help slow the exodus of unaccompanied children from their countries, as House Republicans tried to get behind a solution to the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
GOP lawmakers said Friday they were attempting to coalesce around a narrow package of changes including sending National Guard troops to the border, increasing the number of immigration judges, and changing the law so that migrant youths arriving by the tens of thousands can be sent home more quickly. The package would cost less than $1 billion, several lawmakers said, far less than the $3.7 billion Obama requested.
A number of lawmakers exiting a special meeting on the issue in the Capitol said they had to act before leaving Washington late next week for their annual August recess.
“It would be a terrible message; leave town in August without having done anything, knowing that it’s going to create even more of a crisis on the border,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. “Doing nothing in my view means that these children will be sent from the border back to communities like mine.”
Yet some conservative lawmakers remained skeptical about taking any action. “The acceptable spending level is zero,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
And with Senate Democrats opposed to policy changes to return the kids quickly without judicial hearings, it looked highly unlikely that a deal could be struck to send a bill to Obama’s desk before August.
Friday’s White House meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador came as the administration considered creating a pilot program giving refugee status to young people from Honduras.
White House officials said the plan would involve screening youths in their home country to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. The program would be limited and would start in Honduras but could be expanded to include other Central American countries.