The House GOP proposal would allow youths from Central America and other countries to be treated the same under the law as Mexican children, who can be turned around quickly by Border Patrol agents unless they're able to make the case that they have a fear of return and require further screening.
Immigration advocates and some Democrats contend that the Border Patrol screenings are cursory and inadequate and that the young people will be returned to gang violence and worse.
"A shotgun proceeding in which people are railroaded through a quick process for kids who have no idea what's going on is not how America does refugee protection, is not how America treats its kids," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an advocacy group.
Obama administration officials have indicated support for changing the 2008 law, but the White House has not proposed a specific fix amid complaints from advocacy groups, and its position about what it would accept is unclear.
Meanwhile opposition among Democrats to any changes in the law appears to have hardened after earlier signals from Democratic leaders that they could support changes as the price for GOP support for Obama's emergency spending bill.
Reid, who last week left the door open to changing the law, said Tuesday: "My personal belief is that the law that has created some of the controversy now, there's enough, there's leeway there that the executive branch of government doesn't need new legislation."
It all comes at the same moment that Obama declared legislative efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration system dead in Congress, and announced plans to act on his own authority to make changes where he can.
Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.
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