June 27, 2018 / 2:11 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. House rejects compromise bill on border family separations

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a “compromise” immigration bill on Wednesday, as expected, that would have addressed the crisis of families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House could vote next month on a narrower measure that is being developed and would focus specifically on the family separations issue, although prospects for its passage are uncertain.

By a 301-121 vote, the Republican-controlled House rejected a bill that addressed family separations but also gave long-term protections to young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the country years ago illegally as children, and provided funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump has demanded that Congress resolve the family separations with legislation, in the face of an uproar at home and abroad over the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents as a result of his administration’s policy of “zero tolerance” toward illegal immigration.

Late on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego blocked the administration from separating families at the border, and ordered that those who were separated be reunited within 30 days, a decision the American Civil Liberties Union hailed as a “complete victory.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether the administration would appeal, and Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that “we’re going to see” whether it would fight the court order.

He also said he instructed House Republican leaders struggling for an immigration compromise to “get something you want,” but he was uncertain if anything could pass the Senate, where Republicans only have a two-seat majority and Democratic votes are needed to pass legislation.

“That’s why I don’t get overly excited with the House bill right now because it’s not going to pass in the Senate,” he said.

DEMOCRATS LEFT OUT OF NEGOTIATIONS

The Republican-led House has struggled to find a successful immigration approach. After weeks of negotiations between warring factions of the party, the so-called compromise bill received 72 fewer Republican votes than a more conservative version, which lost on a 231-193 vote last week.

Democrats never were included in the negotiations that led to the legislation and none of them voted for it. Instead, the measure was designed to be a compromise between conservative and centrist Republicans who have been battling each other over immigration for years.

A House Republican aide said the focus now would be to draft a bill prohibiting the separation of children from their parents at the border. That would probably not be voted on until after a week-long recess next week for the Fourth of July holiday, the aide said.

Republican Representative Mark Meadows, the head of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters after the vote that while two immigration bills failed over the past week, he held out a hope a third, narrow immigration measure could pass the House.

The family separations have occurred since early May after the administration began seeking to prosecute all adults crossing the border without authorization, including those travelling with children.

Although Trump issued an executive order on June 20 to end the separations, the ACLU, which brought the San Diego case, said the order contained “loopholes” and did little to fix the problem. Some 2,000 children remain separated.

A Honduran boy seeking asylum waits on the Mexican side of the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge after his family was denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Sabraw’s preliminary injunction also requires the government to reunite children under the age of 5 with their parents within 14 days, and to let children talk by phone with their parents within 10 days.

‘CHAOTIC CIRCUMSTANCE’

Sabraw, an appointee of former Republican President George W. Bush, sharply rebuked the administration.

“The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property,” he wrote.

“The facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making,” he added.

In opposing a preliminary injunction, the government had argued that Trump’s executive order “largely” addressed the concerns of the ACLU.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a Senate hearing earlier on Tuesday that most separated children could not be reunited until the Republican-led Congress passed necessary legislation.

Sabraw, whose injunction contained exceptions for when parents were deemed unfit or a danger to their children, said the government rather than families had the “affirmative duty” to pursue reunifications.

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“This victory will be bring relief to all the parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in an email.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Alison Frankel in New York; Yasmeen Abutaleb and Julia Harte and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney

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