|McALLEN, June 13 - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar will meet and speak on Saturday with some of the unaccompanied minors detained by Border Patrol at its facility in McAllen.
Cuellar says he will be the first member of Congress to visit a Border Patrol facility since the recent spike in apprehensions of minors at the southern border. He said he will also discuss what President Obama is calling a “humanitarian crisis” with Border Patrol officials.
Unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border are only supposed to be detained by Border Patrol for up to 72 hours. They are then supposed to be turned over to Health and Human Services. However, because of a major spike in apprehensions, the agency has been struggling to process those detained within this time frame.
Cuellar said he has been working to secure an additional $78 million in funds from the Appropriations Committee to support Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations.
The House of Representatives has yet to act on a request from the Obama Administration for emergency funds to handle the surge in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors entering the United States unlawfully at the southwest border. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved an additional $2 billion for this purpose.
According to Border Patrol, the number of children entering the U.S. on the southwest border without papers has skyrocketed in recent years. Health and Human Services’ Refugee Resettlement program had between 6,000 and 7,500 such children per year during the 2008-2011 period. In 2012 that number rose to 13,625. In 2013 it jumped again to 24,000. The estimate for 2014 is 90,000.
The Obama Administration says many of the unaccompanied minors being apprehended come from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Administration says the children have been fleeing violence in those countries. The Guardian recently cited a United Nations report published in April that showed there are 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people in Honduras. “This is almost double the number in Venezuela, the next highest country, and almost three times more than Colombia. That means, on average, 20 people are murdered every day in Honduras, a country of only eight million inhabitants,” the Guardian reported.
However, there have been announcements on the radio in those Central American countries that the Obama Administration will soon be giving amnesty to undocumented minors. This could be a reference to Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to practice prosecutorial discretion towards some individuals who immigrated illegally to the United States as children.
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans from Texas, claimed this week that DACA has been an enticement for children from Central American to enter the U.S. illegally. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has responded by pointing out that DACA only applies to people who came into this country as children prior to June, 2007.
Meanwhile, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has requested the federal government provide the Texas Department of Homeland Security an additional $30 million to help enforce security along the Texas-Mexico border. In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Abbott pointed out that in the Rio Grande Valley sector alone, Border Patrol made more than 160,000 apprehensions between October 2013 and May 2014, an increase of 70 percent over the same period the year before.
Authorities arrested 47,017 unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the border between October and May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier, Abbott pointed out. More than two-thirds of these arrests—33,470— were in the Rio Grande Valley sector.
Here is Abbott’s letter in full:
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Johnson,
Texas is currently dealing with an extraordinary influx of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing our long international border with Mexico. With the Border Patrol’s focus shifted to this crisis, we have grave concerns that dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking, will go unchecked because Border Patrol resources are stretched too thin. Securing the U.S.-Mexico border is the federal government’s responsibility. Because that simply is not happening, the State of Texas is seeking emergency funding to help support state-based border security initiatives.
In the Texas Rio Grande Valley sector alone, the U. S. Border Patrol made more than 160,000 apprehensions between October 2013 and May 2014, an increase of 70 percent over the same period the year before. Authorities arrested 47,017 unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the border between October and May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier. More than two-thirds of these arrests—33,470— were in the Rio Grande Valley sector. A draft Border Patrol memorandum estimates that number could reach 90,000 in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
This crisis has been accelerated by federal government policies that, as U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen recently wrote, are “rewarding criminal conduct instead of enforcing the current laws.” Federal government policies that release unauthorized immigrants from custody with notices to appear in court, and that reunite minors apprehended alone in the U.S. illegally with family members already present in the country, only encourages the continued influx of unaccompanied minors that has helped create this urgent situation on our southwestern border.
I am appealing directly to you for immediate assistance with border security operations along the Texas-Mexico border. The influx of child immigrants has so overwhelmed the U.S. Border Patrol that federal agents are devoting time and resources to the humanitarian aspects of the influx. Therefore, we are concerned federal authorities are not available to secure the border and successfully stop cross-border criminal activity.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has a proven track record of interdicting, intercepting and disrupting the criminal operations of transnational gangs and international drug cartels—including illegal smuggling operations by those criminal organizations. The Texas DPS is prepared to swiftly launch a significant and proven border security operation once funding is available. The cost for the operation is approximately $1.3 million per week and is necessary to stem the tide of unauthorized entries across the porous U.S.-Mexico border. The operational costs reflect overtime for State Troopers working 12-hour shifts and other expenses such as fuel and lodging, as well as overtime for local law enforcement agencies, which augment the DPS operations. An immediate $30 million directed toward state and local law enforcement would help mitigate the crisis at hand and provide the Border Patrol the assistance it needs to regain control of the border.
The $30 million requested is only two percent of the amount of aid the President is asking Congress to appropriate in temporary aid to deal with the consequences of the porous border. The short-term cost of border security enhancement provided by Texas should lead to significantly lower aid costs incurred by U.S. taxpayers in the future and would ensure law enforcement at the border continues to be available to focus on narcotics interdiction, human trafficking prevention and other cartel activity. Unless the Department of Homeland Security or another federal agency provides funding, the cartels—which are central to this crisis—will prevail because they profit from each illegal border crossing. With the requested aid, though, the Texas DPS can apply its proven record of success to help staunch this cartel-driven border security problem.
In addition to funds for the Texas Department of Public Safety, I urge the Department of Homeland Security to step up its efforts to prevent these illegal crossings before they occur. I applaud the members of the Border Patrol who defend our border, but they are overwhelmed. Since 2010, the number of apprehensions along the Texas Mexico border has increased by more than 90 percent. Our State needs an increased deployment from the Border Patrol to discourage young persons from making the dangerous and illegal journey so far from their homes.
Thank you for considering this urgent request.
Attorney General of Texas
State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, responded to Abbott’s letter with a statement saying further calls to militarize border fail to address the issue and do not help the unaccompanied children.
What we are dealing with is an influx of children fleeing from Central American violence; imagine a situation so dire that you allow your children to travel a dangerous journey -- thousands of miles -- to a foreign land.
What is needed are not more "boots on the ground" or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents' daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand. We need, above all, a humane way of detaining the children. We need legal services for the children as they navigate what the San Antonio Express-News correctly called a "byzantine" process for filing and pursuing asylum and humanitarian claims. In addition, we need more translators for Spanish as well as for indigenous languages.
Unaccompanied minors are fleeing violence and cartels in their home countries. Sending them back is essentially giving them a death sentence in many cases.
Finally, while there has been a surge in activity at specific points along the Texas border, it's worth noting that even with the recent increase, the Congressional Research Service reported that the overall number of migrants crossing the southern border of the U.S. without proper documents dropped 75 percent from 2000 to 2013.
As I have said many times, the border is a region with many facets. Primarily, it represents opportunity for the U.S., given our rich culture and economic activity. We must address the humanitarian crisis taking place and act thoughtfully, keeping the best interests of the children in mind -- not by building barriers and leaving fleeing children stranded on one side of a wall.