By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN
2014-06-29 03:42 AM
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Saturday during a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border that she holds little hope that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.
After visiting a Border Patrol facility in Brownsville, Texas, holding unaccompanied children, the California Democrat said politics should be set aside to address what President Barack Obama has called an "urgent humanitarian situation." More than 52,000 unaccompanied children, most from Central America, have been apprehended entering the U.S. illegally since October.
"A few days ago I would have been more optimistic about comprehensive immigration reform," Pelosi said. "I thought that we had been finding a way because we have been very patient and respectful of" House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress.
But she added, "I don't think he gives us much reason to be hopeful now, but we never give up. There's still the month of July."
She did not elaborate on what had dampened her optimism in this election year. Boehner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Immigration reform represents one of the Obama administration's last best chances for a major domestic policy achievement during the final two years of his term, and many Republicans eager to woo Hispanic voters back the idea. But while the Senate passed a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill last year, but legislation never got off the ground in the Republican-controlled House.
The Senate bill offers eventual citizenship to many of the 11.5 million people here illegally, billions of dollars to beef up border security, and a remaking the legal immigration system to allow more workers into the country legally.
House Republican leaders said repeatedly that they wanted to get it done, but opposition from a small but vocal group seemed to derail every attempt.
The Border Patrol in South Texas has been overwhelmed for several months by an influx of unaccompanied children and parents traveling with young children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Unlike Mexican immigrants arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, those from Central America cannot be as easily returned to their countries.
The U.S. had only one family detention center in Pennsylvania, so most adults traveling with young children were released and told to check in with the local immigration office when they arrived at their destination. A new facility for families is being prepared in New Mexico.
Children who traveled alone, like those visited by Pelosi in Brownsville, are handled differently. By law, they must be transferred to the custody of the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours of their arrest. From there, they are sent into a network of shelters until they can be reunited with family members while awaiting their day in immigration court.
On Saturday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said up to 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children could be transferred from overcrowded facilities in McAllen to his county by the end of next month. He said the plan is to have youngsters spend about three weeks in Dallas County before hopefully being placed with relatives who are elsewhere in the U.S. The federal government will cover the costs, Jenkins said.
"This is not a commentary on the immigration debate," Jenkins said on the sidelines of the Texas Democratic Convention in Dallas. "This is about scared and lonely children who are trapped in not good conditions on the border, and what we can do in this county to be a part of the solution."
Republicans have criticized Obama's immigration policies, arguing that they've left the impression that women and children from Central America will be allowed to stay in the United States. The administration has worked to send a clear message in recent weeks that new arrivals will be targeted for deportation. But immigrants arriving from those countries say they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Dallas contributed to this report.