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Editorial: Immigrant kids need help from Congress

This June 18, 2014 file-pool photo shows detainees

This June 18, 2014 file-pool photo shows detainees in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. The surge of Central American children crossing the U.S. southern border has shifted the politics of immigration. Credit: AP

After weeks of noisily decrying the crisis of children and teens from Central America swamping the border, Congress is poised to do what it does best: nothing. Then lawmakers will go on vacation.

That would be stunningly irresponsible.

Senate Democrats unveiled an emergency spending bill Wednesday that would provide $2.7 billion to care for the unaccompanied children, hire more judges to speed immigration hearings, pay overtime for U.S. Border Patrol agents and mount a campaign in Central America to persuade people not to try for the border.

It would make no changes to a 2008 law that requires immigration hearings for unaccompanied minors like those fleeing gangs, crime, rape, sex-trafficking and deadly violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Republicans declared the bill dead on arrival, and those in the House of Representatives were preparing one of their own. They won't support more spending unless Congress also amends the 2008 law, even though with no changes most of the minors will be unable to establish the sort of persecution at home required to win asylum. Republicans want to make it even easier to deport unaccompanied minors who arrive in the future.

Children and teens fleeing danger at home deserve due process here to determine whether they are eligible to stay as refugees. Adjudicating the cases of the 61,000 children who have crossed the border this year could take years in the backlogged immigration court system unless new judges are hired to expedite the process. Some changes in the law to speed things up without abandoning due process may be appropriate. But that's an issue for another day. There's no way Democrats and Republicans bitterly polarized on immigration will find common ground on the 2008 law in the next few days.

Right now Congress needs to provide the money needed to handle the immediate humanitarian crisis. Lawmakers shouldn't beat it out of town until they do.