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Obama on a high wire on immigration law changes

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm •  Published: July 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic opposition increased Wednesday to legal changes that would speed removals of young Central American migrants, jeopardizing President Barack Obama's call for $3.7 billion in emergency border spending to deal with the remarkable surge of unaccompanied youths at the South Texas border.

Republicans insist they won't agree to the spending without accompanying changes to a 2008 law that gives unaccompanied minors arriving from Central American the right to an immigration hearing, in practice keeping them in this country for years.

But Democratic resistance to such changes hardened, with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi changing her stance Wednesday and announcing her opposition to altering the law in a way that would create shortcuts around the immigration court system for Central American youths. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus also took a firm stand against any changes in a meeting with President Barack Obama.

"We made an impassioned plea that the children be protected and that we follow the law," Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said afterward.

The White House has said it wants Congress to give the administration expanded authority to more quickly send back unaccompanied minors from Central American who are crossing the border, but officials have not spelled out what specific provisions they would like.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said Obama assured the group that the due process rights of the minors would not be compromised, while Gutierrez said Obama does not need a change in law to speed up the immigration process.

"I think within existing law, he can achieve what he needs," Gutierrez said. "Look, I didn't come to Congress to diminish and abolish protections that people have."

The lawmakers also spent time pressing Obama to take executive actions to decrease deportations of immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally but who have been in the country for some time. Obama has said he is reviewing his options and promised to act on his own after House Republican leaders made it clear there would be no vote this year on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law.

For the moment, the surge of minors across the border has taken precedence over the broader issue of affording legal status to immigrants who are already in the country.

"We can do justice to both situations," Castro said after the meeting with Obama. "It's certainly juggling two balls at once, but we can do that. I come away with hope on both."

Meanwhile, top administration officials including Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson briefed senators behind closed doors Wednesday evening on the border situation and the president's emergency spending request, but appeared to do little to win over skeptical Republicans. That left it unclear as to whether Congress will act to address the crisis in the three weeks remaining before lawmakers leave town for their annual August recess.

And the politics around the issue appeared set to get even tougher as a spokeswoman for tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announced he would use any legislation on the issue to try to repeal a two-year-old Obama directive that allowed certain immigrants brought here illegally as youths to stay and work here.

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