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State's delegates split on funds to ease border influx

By Sarah D. Wire

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 2:59 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The six members of Arkansas' delegation were split Thursday on congressional bills to provide extra funding to help with the thousands of children crossing into the United States from Central America.

U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford and Tom Cotton were still undecided when House leadership halted a proposed vote hours before the House was set to leave for a five-week August recess. Reps. Steve Womack and Tim Griffin said they would have supported it.

House Republicans are scheduled to meet this morning, and the full House is set to return at 10 a.m. for possible voting.

But a procedural vote in the Senate to waive a budgeting requirement stymied that chamber's version of the bill from moving to a full vote Thursday evening. Sen. Mark Pryor voted to waive the requirement; Sen. John Boozman voted against.

The Senate returns for voting in September, and the House cannot finalize a bill alone.

In a statement, Boozman, a Republican from Rogers, said giving the president a "blank check" wouldn't solve the problem at the border.

"It begins with enforcing our immigration laws and correcting the misrepresentations and misunderstandings of our laws that play a significant role in the recent influx of children crossing our southern border. I believe that these children here illegally need to be taken care of, but there needs to be a plan to return them to their home countries safely and as soon as possible," Boozman said.

In a statement, Pryor, a Democrat from Little Rock, said the bill would have helped temporarily.

"Doing nothing doesn't make this problem go away. We have a responsibility to properly care for the children in U.S. custody," Pryor said. "That's why I supported this pared-down bill that will provide additional immigration judges to expedite sending these children back home and for the food and shelter they need until then."

Moments after the vote was canceled Thursday, Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro, said he still hadn't made up his mind.

"I certainly want to do something, but I think it probably was a wise decision at this point to pull it so that we didn't make a mistake," Crawford said. "Getting it right is probably more important than getting it fast. We're talking about a big issue, and it was hard to make a decision on it. We were literally looking at it from every angle."

Crawford said he was concerned the bill didn't provide enough money for states to use the National Guard and that it didn't address the number of children being granted asylum by U.S. judges. He also didn't like that the bill did not go through the normal committee process before a vote was scheduled.

Cotton, a Republican from Dardanelle, had several concerns, said his spokesman, Caroline Rabbitt.

"He wanted to see how the floor debate played out and what exactly the final package would be but he was leaning toward not supporting it," she said in a statement.

Griffin and Womack both said they would have voted yes on the supplemental funding.

Griffin said he also supported a second bill the House was scheduled to vote on that targeted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, through which hundreds of thousands of people brought into the country illegally as children have been granted temporary reprieves by the Obama administration while they apply for citizenship. Womack said he wanted to hear the floor discussion but was leaning toward supporting it.

Some Republicans have blamed the program for encouraging children to travel to the United States illegally and have said they fear the president will expand the program further.

Womack said it isn't prudent for Congress not to address legislatively, before going home, the number of children crossing the border.

"It is what it is," Womack said after the vote was canceled. "It was obvious that we lacked the vote sufficient for passage. I just think it's a mistake for us to go home without addressing this issue."

Womack said the bill went through several changes and some members who said they would vote for the bill changed their mind.

"That's when we knew that there was a potential train wreck about to happen here on the vote," he said.

Griffin, a Republican from Little Rock, said the bills were targeted to address the ongoing problems at the border without overhauling the entire immigration system too quickly.

"I'm disappointed that we weren't able to reach an agreement," he said.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should have gone through the legislative process, he said.

"The president's executive orders have sent the signal of, 'Come on, don't worry about our laws,'" Griffin said. "That is the wrong signal."

A section on 08/01/2014

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