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With Congress Set To Adjourn, Border Crisis Remains Unresolved


Before heading off for a summer recess, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress want to do something about the tens of thousands of young Central Americans seeking refuge along the Southwest border. Votes are set today in the GOP-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate on separate bills addressing the crisis, but that does not mean a resolution is in sight. Here's NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: House Republicans have refused to take up a sweeping bipartisan revamping of immigration laws that the Senate passed more than a year ago. But with mid-term elections looming, GOP lawmakers are feeling the heat from constituents about this latest border crisis, and has them scrambling to do something fast. Bill Flores is a House Republican from Texas.

CONGRESSMAN BILL FLORES: If we leave without addressing what's one of the most critical issues on my constituent's minds, I don't think it's good. I don't it's good for me, it's good for Texas - not good for the country.

WELNA: House Speaker John Boehner, agrees.

JOHN BOEHNER: I think we should do something for we go home, and we're working to get there.

WELNA: The bill House Republicans came up with initially provided $1.5 billon to deal with the crisis, less than half than President Obama requested. That then got whittled down to $1 billion. The final version, Boehner announced, carves $659 million out of the existing federal budget, including aid for Central America.

BOEHNER: Which covers the expenses we believe our necessary between now and the end of September. And I think there's sufficient support in the House to move this bill, we got a little more work to do though.

WELNA: That's because not all House Republicans are on board, including Alabama's Mo Brooks.

CONGRESSMAN MO BROOKS: To me, the laws that are on the books are already adequate. What we need is a President who will obey them.

WELNA: Few, if any house Democrats are expected to back the bill, leaving in doubt whether it has the votes to pass. Most of them strongly oppose a provision amending an anti-human trafficking law that Congress passed six years ago. The change would make it easier to deport young people whose nations don't border with the U.S. Roy Blunt is a Republican senator from Missouri. His GOP colleagues in the House he says, are doing the right thing.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT: The law needs to be changed so that immigrants from all countries coming to our borders are treated just like immigrants from Mexico and Canada. They have an immediate hearing, almost all of them are told you have to go back, and once that happens almost all of them stop coming.

WELNA: But most Democrats don't blame a flawed law for the serge of Central Americans at the border.

SENATOR BARABRA MIKULSKI: The reason we have a crisis at the border is because we have a crisis in Central America.

WELNA: That's Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski. She chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

MIKULSKI: The recruitment into violent gangs, the recruitment into human trafficking with the threat of death or torture - that's where these kids are coming from. We've to go after the criminals in Central America and not treat these children like they are criminals.

WELNA: The $2.7 billion that the Senate bill provides for the border crisis includes funds to improve conditions in Central America, and makes no change in the 2008 trafficking law. Additionally the bill has more than $600 billion for fighting forest fires and $225 million to bolster Israel's Iron Dome missile defense shield. Texas Republican Ted Cruz calls the bill a cynical ploy by Senate Democrats.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: Because when it fails, the majority leader will come out and say the Republicans don't want to solve the problem on the border, and the Republicans are unwilling to stand with our friend and ally Israel.

WELNA: Another Senate Republican, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, predicts Congress will eventually reach an agreement.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: The way this movie ends, is that there will be a change in the '08 law because without that, you're not going to adjust the bottom line problem.

WELNA: Even if that is the outcome, which some Democrats also consider possible, it likely won't be until after Congress returns in September. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.