Republican move on immigrants backfires on John Boehner

Bid to break deadlock over humanitarian crisis leaves leader in battle with own side as tea party right-wingers demand much tougher action

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 August, 2014, 11:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 August, 2014, 1:16am

A bill to fund US border security has backfired on Republican leader John Boehner, leaving Republicans in disarray and struggling to reconcile the "tea party" conservative movement's demands with the need to deal with a humanitarian crisis on the border with Mexico.

Boehner withdrew the bill on Thursday after failing to secure sufficient Republican votes for passage. That left him in an all-too-familiar position of having to somehow pass legislation or risk damage to his party in the November congressional elections in which Republicans are trying to capture the Senate.

The original, carefully crafted, US$659 million bill to pay for more border security and help feed and house tens of thousands of Central American children arriving illegally in the United States collapsed on Thursday.

The debacle had the hallmarks of sabotage by tea-party-backed Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas. Cruz, a potential 2016 presidential contender, had lobbied his Republican colleagues to reject the legislation on the grounds that it was too timid.

He said the measure would not reverse President Barack Obama's 2012 policy of suspending deportations of undocumented residents brought to the US as children by their parents.

Shortly after the drama unfolded at the House of Representatives, rank-and-file Republicans were publicly warring.

"Some day, Republicans will wise up and stop listening to Ted Cruz," Republican Peter King, of New York, said. Cruz and others had "hijacked the party" he said.

That was in stark contrast to Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota tea-party activist and failed 2012 presidential candidate. "The people are very clear. They want these people deported immediately," she said. "And they want to have the fence built up so that they don't come in. They are tired of seeing their tax dollars spent on people who are here illegally in the United States."

Boehner and moderate Republicans have been trying to expand the party's appeal to Hispanics, who rejected presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

House Republicans said they planned to put to the vote revised legislation that would make it easier to deport Central American child migrants.

One bill provides additional funding for border security and to care for tens of thousands of Central American children and the other bill weakens their legal refugee status and reverses much of Obama's two-year-old policy delaying deportation efforts against children brought to the US illegally by their parents.

The funding bill is expected to add US$35 million in federal reimbursements for states that deploy National Guard troops to secure the border with Mexico, bringing the total to US$694 million, lawmakers said.

The measure aimed at faster deportations contains stronger language to ensure that children from Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries are treated the same as Mexican children, revising a 2008 law to combat human trafficking.

It also seeks to ban new children from being admitted to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme, and in a key reversal, would not allow those currently protected by it to have their status renewed.

"We're going to pass this today," said Republican Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona. "Several of the people who were noes got up and publicly stated at the microphone that they've switched from no to yes. I expect this thing to sail through."

Even with House passage, the Republican bills are unlikely to be enacted. The US Senate is not expected to take the measures up as Congress leaves Washington on Friday to start a five-week summer recess.