WASHINGTON — The Congressional Hispanic Caucus went to the White House Wednesday with a pretty clear message for President Obama: Don't back down.
With the crisis at the border consuming Washington, Republicans are urging the president to support changes to a 2008 law that would speed up deportations for the thousands of children coming in from Central America while at the same time blaming Obama's immigration policies for the crisis in the first place.
But members of the CHC are nervous the president won't be as bold on the immigration executive actions he has promised to take because of the current attention to the border crisis.
"They've been weaved together to such a point that the children on the border are now the cannon fodder for fighting the president on anything he might want or any executive order he might take," said Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "It panics people. They worry about their elections and it's being exploited well politically. Ideally they are separated. I don't think right now, given the context and the atmosphere, it's going to be pretty hard."
Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, one of the most vocal advocates for Obama using executive authority to reduce or slow deportations of undocumented immigrants already in the United States, argued that Democrats had been far too willing to let Republicans make the first move on immigration policy and that Obama's executive orders needed to be "broad, expansive, and generous."
"That's the problem with Democrats … Republicans have determined how it is Democrats proceed on formulating public policy when it comes to immigrants," he said. "We don't do it when it comes to the LGBT community, we don't do it when it comes to the environment, we don't do it when it comes to workers' rights, we don't do it when it comes to the rights of women. Why on immigration can't we just stand solidly on our principles and say, here are our values?"
"We can't just go at the next election, 'Oh, we're not as bad as the other guy,'" he added.
The CHC has also taken a hard stance on crisis at the border, clearly stating it will oppose any supplemental funding if changes are made to a 2008 anti-trafficking law. The law treats children from Central America differently than those from Mexico by allowing them to be transferred to the care of HHS while they wait for their immigration cases to be heard.
"Members of the Hispanic Caucus feel they should have their day in court," said Rep. Joaquín Castro. "We hope that [Obama] agrees… These kids are fleeing from horrible and violent situations in their home countries, and for those reasons we hope they have their day in court."
The administration seemed open to changes to the law but asked for an additional almost $4 billion in supplemental funds to deal with the border crisis. House Republicans are working on their own bill that will likely include changes to the trafficking law. Additionally, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar introduced a bill to modify the 2008 law to treat Central American children the same as those who come from Mexico, which would expedite their court hearings and likely send many of them back to their home countries.
Cuellar's support for changes to the law is a clear split from his colleagues in the CHC. But the Hispanic Caucus did score a win on Wednesday after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced she too would not support a bill that made changes to the trafficking law. In fact, Pelosi supports expanding the law to extend to Mexican children coming to the border.
"I do think the bill that was introduced is exactly the wrong way to go," she told the New York Times. "Is the only immigration bill we're going to have one that hurts children?"