July 5, 2014
The Arizona Republic
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would get the authority to immediately return unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the border to their home countries in Central America under a bill U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon intends to introduce early this week.
Salmon, R-Ariz., said his measure would address a provision in a 2008 human-trafficking law that requires U.S. Border Patrol agents to turn the children over to the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services and guarantees them hearings, which can take years. If the children came from Mexico or Canada, the Border Patrol already can quickly transfer them back to the custody of their governments.
Tens of thousands of children from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have entered the country without authorization since the fall and overwhelmed the resources of President Barack Obama's administration. Obama is asking Congress for $2 billion to help pay for additional immigration judges needed to handle the new cases and other costs related to the border emergency. The White House also has signaled that Obama would like lawmakers to revisit the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 to allow for accelerated deportations.
"I think the first step to fix it is to give our CBP guys the authority to immediately repatriate them back to their countries," said Salmon, who is chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and a member of the working group that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, assembled to address the crisis. "Then we are going to have to have communications with Mexico and work with them to secure Mexico's southern border."
Salmon also suggested that the United States use some money from the anti-crime Merida Initiative, a U.S. -Mexican partnership, to help Mexico strengthen its southern security and crack down on the human smugglers who are trafficking the children.
"There are a lot of dollars that we are giving out in foreign aid and I think we need to redirect some of it," he said. "If the president is asking for $2 billion, I think we have to find it within the system and reshuffle things."
Salmon made the remarks to The Arizona Republic Thursday after participating in a U.S. House Homeland Security Committee field hearing in McAllen, Texas, which is the main point of entry for many of the children.
Human-rights advocates and immigration activists have already mobilized to push back against any attempt to remove or weaken legal protections for the unaccompanied children.
In a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., predicted a political battle on Capitol Hill. He said children in El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing from gangs and organized crime and children from Guatemala are fleeing from a dysfunctional government.
Any parent or grandparent should sympathize with a parent who believes "that it is more of a physical risk for children to remain in those communities and in those countries than it is to take a dangerous trip to try to come to the United States," Grijalva said.
But Salmon stressed that the humanitarian concerns demand that the United States take clear and effective action to stop the flow of the immigrant children.
Many children die on the treacherous journey while others are raped or forced into prostitution, he said, and allowing the immigrant children to stay would only encourage more to try to come.
"We're not doing them any favors," Salmon said. "This is not a compassionate thing that we are allowing to happen. In fact, it's a terrible thing. And in a way our policies are aiding and abetting these cartels in exploiting these children. So we have to change our policies to the point where they are actually a deterrent."