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White House reaches out to Hispanic lawmakers during border crisis

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(CNN) — Obama administration officials will meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus this week to discuss mounting concerns about the fate of the unaccompanied minors fleeing to the United States from Central America.

“Administration officials will meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday,” a White House official said Monday. The official said more details about the meeting would come later.

Several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have raised concerns about calls to send all of the children back immediately.

“I will strongly oppose any attempts to roll back current laws designed to protect the ability of these children and families to apply for asylum,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, said in a statement through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Menendez and other Congressional Democrats are concerned about efforts by the administration and lawmakers in both parties to change a 2008 law aimed at shielding Central American children from human trafficking. The Wilberforce law, signed by former President George W. Bush just before he left office, is now seen as offering a loophole to the current young migrants streaming to the U.S. border.

Under the law, children from non-border countries are afforded immigration hearings and not sent back immediately, unlike young migrants from Mexico, who face speedier deportation proceedings.

Last week, Earnest said the White House is seeking changes to the law to give the Department of Homeland Security more flexibility in deporting the unaccompanied minors back to their countries of origin.

“It’s unlikely that most of the kids who go through this process will qualify for humanitarian relief, which is to say that most of them will not have a legal basis . . . to remain in this country,” Earnest said.

Yet at the White House briefing on Monday, Earnest signaled a shift in tone on the future of the children. Earnest stressed some of the young migrants who have arrived in the United States from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in recent months may ultimately be allowed to stay in the country, if they can qualify for asylum status.

“If an immigration judge determines that they face a credible threat of death upon their return to their home country, then again, I’m not an immigration judge, but it is likely that the immigration judge will find that that person should be granted humanitarian relief,” Earnest said.

That comment was in response to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who sharply disagreed with the administration’s statements that the majority of the children would be sent back home.

“We are not a country that should turn children away and send them back to certain death,” O’Malley said Friday at a National Governors Association meeting in Nashville.

By Jim Acosta

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