Immigration reform may – or may not – be dead for the year, depending on which of South Carolina’s senior congressional lawmakers is talking.
Senate Democrats must be willing to change a 2008 human-trafficking law that shields immigrant children who cross the U.S. border alone from immediate deportation, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, said Tuesday at a news conference on the passage of a bill aimed at improving health care for veterans.
Making it easier to deport children at the U.S.-Mexico border, where more than 50,000 Central American youths have crossed since January, is part of a GOP-passed House bill. However, the Senate’s Democratic leaders has said that proposal will go nowhere.
Across the political aisle, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, blames fierce partisanship in the Republican-led House for dooming an immigration proposal that Democrats would accept.
The assistant Democratic leader of the House said he is willing to close any loopholes in the 2008 law that exist if they are encouraging children to make the trek. But he opposes rolling back protections for children in the law against deportation.
“I read all the studies about these children, what they're leaving behind,” Clyburn said Tuesday. Rape, human trafficking, gangs and drugs are often the reality that the children face in their home countries, he said.
Graham and Clyburn also disagreed on whether President Barack Obama’s administration erred in not informing S.C. officials about 350 children captured at the border who subsequently were placed with S.C. sponsors, including family members whose immigration status is unknown.
“The governor was right to want to know who these people are,” Graham said of Gov. Nikki Haley, who expressed frustration at a lack of details about the children, their sponsors and the potential costs that the state could have to pay for the children.
“I don’t want to put anybody at risk,” Graham said. “But if you’re asking states to absorb these kids – they’re going to go to school, they’re going to be getting health care – we in Congress should help pay that bill.”
The senator, whose bi-partisan immigration plan has stalled, blamed the recent immigrant surge on Obama, who said in 2012 that illegal immigrants who came to the country as children could stay and work. That declaration gave the impression that youths would not be turned away, he said.
Graham said immigrants seeking asylum should apply in their countries. Letting them in the country and “reuniting families” sends the wrong message, he said.
“What people in these countries need to see is planeloads of their fellow citizens being sent back to their country,” he said.
But Clyburn said he has a “real problem with people who put dollars as obstructions to human rights.”
“Having grown up in South Carolina, I remember the arguments that were used against the integration of schools, against implementing fairness for me and my brothers,” Clyburn said.
“There's always a cost to that.”