Texas leaders say it’s time to stop talking and take action on the growing humanitarian crisis at the border.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is the latest Texas official to weigh in with proposed legislation to grapple with the dilemma, in which a growing number of children continue illegally crossing the country’s southwest border into this state.
Cornyn plans to file a bill along with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, to speed up deportations of thousands of Central American children — and ensure their safety while they are here.
This is the latest move by Texas lawmakers who have offered up proposals ranging from meeting with President Obama to hash out a solution to persuading Congress to pass a fair immigration plan.
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“It would be nice if the Texas delegation were able to lead the way to immigration reform,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Texas leaders have long called for the White House to secure the border, but reports recently showed that the steady stream of people illegally crossing the border to find safety in the United States has become a flood — especially of unaccompanied children.
Those minors, generally from Central America, are making their way in growing numbers through Texas’ southern border with Mexico. Federal officials have reported more than 50,000 apprehensions there, nearly double the number found last year.
Texas’ congressional delegation — many of whom have made their way to the border to see the children and observe the crisis firsthand — say it’s time to do something.
Cornyn and Cuellar say their bill — the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act — will reform current law.
“Today’s legislation strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of Border Patrol,” Cuellar said.
The measure rewrites a 2008 law to make sure children from Central America are treated the same as those from Canada, Mexico or any other country.
The proposal calls for unaccompanied children to have an immigration court hearing within seven days of completing Health and Human Services screening. And an immigration judge would have to decide within three days whether the child may stay in the United States or be deported.
The measure also authorizes as many as 40 new immigration judges to help speed up the process. It also calls on officials to give these children “protective shelter” while awaiting court hearings.
Cornyn said he and Cuellar “are proposing a solution to the current crisis on our border.”
President Obama has asked Congress to allocate emergency funding — $3.7 billion worth — to help with the border crisis.
Republicans say that’s too much money.
“I will not support any additional funding for the border crisis unless the law is changed to allow for quicker return of illegal immigrants to their home countries,” said U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. “The president’s request of $3.7 billion is not a serious solution.”
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is among the many local congressional leaders studying the issue — visiting the Texas-Mexico border, detention facilities and even the countries youths may be fleeing — trying to determine ways to help.
“I saw firsthand how dire the situation is for the thousands of unaccompanied minors who are making the dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S. border,” said Granger, who heads a working group of House Republicans hoping to address the humanitarian crisis.
On Monday, she and a bipartisan congressional delegation returned from a visit to Central America as part of the effort to find solutions to help with the border crisis.
They met with the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras, and also visited a repatriation center and community outreach center. Granger plans to update the House Republican Conference about the trip today.
Last week, President Obama visited with Gov. Rick Perry and other leaders during a brief trip to Texas and summed up his talk with Texas’ governor.
“I told Rick Perry today, I said, ‘I’m happy to listen to your ideas,’” Obama said. “But right now, the main problem I’ve got with respect to these unaccompanied children is I’ve just put forward a piece of legislation before Congress that would give us the resources to care for them and help deal with the border — all the things you say you want, governor.”
“And somehow I haven’t heard yet from the Republican delegation of Texas to say this is such an urgent problem that they’re going to move this quickly and get it done.”
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, a Republican whose district stretches from the edges of Tarrant County to Austin, quickly sent off a letter to the president.
“Mr. President, I am flattered that you think our delegation possess the power to fix one of the largest humanitarian crises in our nation’s history with one single vote, but I’m afraid your administration’s policies and the lack of enforcing the law cannot be fixed with the supplemental bill you proposed,” he wrote.
Williams said earmarking $3.7 billion to speed up the legal process for children illegally in this country is “wasted taxpayer money.”
“On behalf of my Texas colleagues, I plead for your time,” Williams wrote. “I would like to invite you to sit down with the Texas delegation so we can find a solution together.”
Williams has yet to hear back from the president.
But Texas Democrats said it’s time to end the political drama.
“The humanitarian challenges we are facing on our border are real and the health and safety of thousands of children are at stake,” wrote Manny Garcia, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, in an email sent out Monday.
He encouraged those who agree to sign an online letter calling for a solution. “We need real solutions and a secure border, not more political games from Texas Republicans,” he wrote.
Finding a solution
The one thing Texas officials agree on is that finding a solution won’t be easy.
“We are experiencing an unprecedented crisis,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, said during a recent video message sent out to constituents in his district. “The recent influx … is staggering.
“What these youngsters are going through is sad, … but it’s also extraordinarily expensive,” he said. “You have to wonder how secure our borders are if an 8-year-old can get through them.”
He said he opposes amnesty for people illegally in the country. “I believe we must improve enforcement of our immigration laws,” Burgess said.
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, told House members this month that he hopes everyone will work to do the right thing.
“For over a year now, House Republicans have refused to take up a long overdue overhaul of the immigration system that will streamline the legal immigration process, decrease the nation’s deficit, secure our borders, create jobs and provide an earned pathway to citizenship,” he said.
“We need to put politics aside and work together to pass a fair immigration plan for the 21st century that honors this country’s history as the land of opportunity, justice and equality for all.”