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Editorial: How Congress can ease immigration crisis

A detainees sleep in a holding cell at

A detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, on June 18, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Pool

With little tumult, more than 2,200 unaccompanied children and teens from Central America who recently entered the United States illegally to seek asylum have temporarily moved in with relatives and sponsors on Long Island.

They've been absorbed over the first seven months of the year with no evidence of the crime, gang involvement and plummeting property values predicted by the people who have noisily opposed allowing any of these kids to be sheltered on Long Island.

It's unlikely that youngsters who fled the threat of gangs, crime and the sex trade in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras would risk a long, dangerous journey to the United States only to intentionally get involved in the very same things once here. Experience so far demonstrates that Long Island -- now home to more of these children than anyplace else in the tristate region -- can do the right thing to help handle this humanitarian crisis without dire consequences.

That doesn't mean the influx of more than 60,000 people 17 and younger who crossed the border illegally this fiscal year won't add costs for some local communities -- for example, if a significant number are clustered in any one school district. But that's no reason to spurn the children. It's a reason to prod Congress to do its job.

Lawmakers left Washington for their August recess without approving any of the $3.7 billion in emergency funds President Barack Obama sought to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border.

The money would have been used to care for the children, pay overtime for U.S. Border Patrol agents, mount a campaign in Central America to persuade people not to try to enter the United States, and to hire more immigration judges to expedite asylum hearings for the unaccompanied minors who surged across the border this year.

For most of the arrivals, the likely outcome of those hearings will be a ticket home. It will be difficult for them to prove the sort of persecution required to win asylum.

But Republicans want to make it even easier to deport children who come in the future. They refused to support any emergency spending unless Congress amends the 2008 law that requires immigration hearings for unaccompanied children. The only minors who can currently be turned back at the border without formal hearings are those from Mexico and Canada, countries that border the United States. Republicans want to expand that exception to include unaccompanied minors from Central America.

Children fleeing danger at home deserve due process to determine whether they qualify to stay here as refugees. Some changes in the law to speed things up without abandoning meaningful due process may be appropriate. But first things first. Without the funding to speed the hearings, it could take years for backlogged immigration courts to resolve this surge of cases.

Unfortunately, Republicans are digging in. They've threatened to use the control Congress has over spending to shut down the government later this month if Obama takes any unilateral, executive action to repair the nation's broken immigration system.

Congress needs to solve problems like this, not prolong them by aggressively obstructing any action.