AAA  Jul. 17, 2014 11:45 AM ET
Senate chairman warns against border policy change
By ERICA WERNER and JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press THE ASSOCIATED PRESS STATEMENT OF NEWS VALUES AND PRINCIPLES 
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MCALLEN, TX. --TUESDAY, JULY 15, 2014 -- Immigrants who have been detained while crossing the border are held inside the McAllen Border Patrol Station in McAllen, Texas, Tuesday July 15, 2014. More than 350 detainees were being held on Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at the station. A solution for the growing crisis of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border is looking increasingly elusive with three weeks left before Congress leaves Washington for an annual August recess. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Rick Loomis, Pool)
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(AP) — The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Thursday he can't accept changing U.S. policy to speed Central American kids home faster from the border without court hearings.

"I understand the desire to accelerate the process, but accelerating without due process is not acceptable," Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said as his panel opened a hearing on the crisis at the border.

Many Republican lawmakers are demanding such a change as their price for supporting any part of the president's $3.7 billion emergency spending bill to deal with the tens of thousands of kids showing up unaccompanied at the border. But Democratic opposition is hardening, leaving any solution unclear.

A dispute also emerged at Thursday's hearing over whether the border crisis was caused in part by President Barack Obama's two-year-old policy allowing certain immigrants brought illegally to the country as children to stay and work here.

Republicans are pressing the argument that the Obama policy was a major driver of the spike in migration by kids from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Sen. Ted Cruz announced Tuesday that he will use any legislation to deal with the crisis to try to overturn that directive — an indication that the politics around the issue are getting even tougher with less than three weeks left for Congress to address the problem before leaving Washington for the annual August recess.

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, tried to get Obama administration witnesses to acknowledge the crisis was caused in part by Obama's policy, holding up a chart showing migration spiking in 2012.

"Are you telling me that his executive order that we're not going to send any children back didn't cause an explosion?" he asked.

"I think very little of it has to do with the immigration debate here," said Thomas A. Shannon Jr., a counselor at the State Department.

Shannon said that gang violence was a major driver but that smugglers also exploited U.S. policies that in practice allow Central American kids to stay once they arrive. He pointed to the 2008 anti-trafficking law signed by George W. Bush that Republicans want to amend, not to Obama's 2012 directive.

Risch and other Republicans insisted Obama's policy played a large role.

"In 2012, this thing just skyrockets," said Risch.

Still, lawmakers in both parties expressed the desire to act amid signs that the public was demanding a solution. One in six people now call immigration the most pressing problem facing the U.S., according to a new Gallup poll — up dramatically just since last month, when only 5 percent said immigration topped their list of concerns.

In that time, the crisis of unaccompanied children at the border has burst into headlines, with more than 57,000 young people arriving since the fall.

"It's a terrible situation. You talk about small kids, nobody there to help them, but they've got to go back," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a supporter of stalled congressional efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system. "I am out there on immigration reform, but there is no market for this in America. ... America is not going to tolerate this."

Associated Press
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