Monday, June 30, 2014

Congress discusses border fence, immigration policy

Valley Morning Star
June 25, 2014
by Ty Johnson

One Republican Congressman called for more border fence construction while another suggested suspending foreign aid to Mexico and Central America during a heated House Committee on Homeland Security hearing in Washington, D.C. Tuesday where lawmakers discussed the growing crisis in the Rio Grande Valley posed by an influx of unaccompanied child immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson held fast amidst questioning of his agency’s handling of the situation. Other witnesses included Federal Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Chief Ronald D. Vitiello.

While Republicans blame the immigration policies of President Barack Obama for the influx, the administration says it’s being exacerbated by slow immigration courts and misinformation spread by profit-hungry human smugglers in Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, said it’s a lack of fencing in the Rio Grande Valley that has made it the epicenter of the nation’s undocumented immigrant crisis.

Rogers suggested that fencing like that in San Diego would help keep immigrants from entering the United States illegally, though he seemed unaware of the amount of border fencing already in place in Cameron and Hidalgo counties.

“We don’t have a fence down there and that’s why,” he said in his second red-faced address in four days of talks about DHS and its role in combating the crisis.

On June 20, he angrily questioned whether terrorists could take advantage of the situation while Border Patrol agents are “changing diapers and warming formula” — language he again used Tuesday.

Amidst calls for more discussions and aid for the immigrants’ home countries from Democrats, including ranking member Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi and U.S. Rep. Filemon B. Vela, Rogers said he would like for dialogue to center solely on deportation.

“Why aren’t we bussing them back?” he asked. “I think what you ought to do is ask Guatemala where they want these kids dropped off.”

Johnson reminded Rogers of a 2008 law signed by George W. Bush that made special requirements for unaccompanied and undocumented children encountered near the border, but Rogers brushed it off by commenting on how long implementation of the Affordable Care Act was taking.

Speaking later, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan, pushed for a much more stern foreign policy response, calling for aid to be cut off to Mexico and Central America and for the United States to reassess or suspend its trade agreements with the countries.

Miller said Mexico was “complicit” in the smuggling of children across the American border as most immigrants trek across the country’s porous southern border and pay smugglers to reach the United States.

While she attempted to blame Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy for the crisis, others at the hearing noted that order deferred action only for children who were already in the country.

Still, the misinformation along the smuggling routes is stoking rumors that the United States is offering some form of refuge to displaced immigrants and parents continue to send their children on perilous journeys to the north.

Border Patrol agents apprehend them when they cross the border — sometimes easily as immigrants run toward agents believing it is their best shot at amnesty — and children found to be without parents are screened by U.S. Coast Guard medical personnel.

CBP is legally obligated to hand over these unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of finding they are alone — a benchmark that Johnson said the agency was not meeting.

DHSS sends those children off to live with relatives or others in the country with a notice to appear in immigration court — effectively an indictment requiring their appearance at a hearing sometimes scheduled more than a year away.

Those notices are likely the “permisos” that immigrants send word home about, their legitimacy bolstered by smugglers looking to profit off the false hope of desperate immigrants fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Guatemala to attempt to stem the tide of immigrants at its source on June 20, the same day the Obama administration announced half a dozen new programs in Central America to help those nations repatriate their citizens and enhance policing efforts to reduce crime.

Vela, who last week called for more aid in Mexico and Central America, said he saw the situation at the border as a trifecta of crises in Central America, within the U.S. immigration courts and with immigration reform efforts, which have ground to a halt since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill nearly a year ago.

Vela noted the sentiments GOP mega-donor and kingmaker Sheldon G. Adelson expressed in a recent op-ed in Politico Magazine where he called for the establishment of paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.

Vela said those views — not the ones of tea party Republicans like Miller and Rogers — were signs that extremist views concerning border security and immigration reform were wilting.

“There are some tea party extremists in the Republican party who happen to sit on the committee that just have views that are very extreme,” he said. “Those are the voices that you’re hearing calling for more fencing, which we strongly object to, and ... for all practical purposes, eliminating our trading relationship with our nation’s second-largest trading partner.”

Vela was particularly critical of Rogers’ suggestion about fencing, explaining that reports he has heard have shown immigrants “walking straight through the bridge and turning themselves in,” throughout the Valley’s ports of entry.

Vela said while he believes CBP likely needs more manpower at its processing centers — the Fort Brown Border Patrol Station was at double capacity last week — the responses from Vitiello have him convinced that Border Patrol has enough resources to handle the situation.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cuellar: We need to act now to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along border

Rio Grande Guardian
June 2, 2014
by Luis Montoya

LAREDO, June 2 - U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar on Monday called for the establishment of a multi-agency processing center on the border to deal with a recent influx of immigrant apprehensions.
In a letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of various House committees, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Cuellar pointed out that since the beginning of this year over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector. This is more than a 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014, Cuellar wrote, in his letter. Cuellar said the Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. “We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border,” Cuellar, D-Laredo, wrote. Cuellar sent a letter on the same day President Obama President Obama held a news conference at the White House to say there is an "urgent humanitarian situation" at the border. Obama referenced a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing into the United States from Mexico. According to Kids in Need of Defense, a group that advocates for immigrant children and provides legal services during deportation proceedings, as many as 150,000 unaccompanied children could cross into the United States next. In fiscal year 2012 that number was 13,625, the group says. It rose to 24,668 in 2013. The government predicts as many as 60,000 children could enter the U.S. unaccompanied in 2014. Border Patrol cannot keep the children form more than 72 hours and so the numbers are overwhelming the agencies charged with catering for the children. Obama said he was placing Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate in charge of a group that will coordinate services among many federal agencies in order to better assist the minors apprehended at the border. The Office of Management and Budget says it will cost $2.28 billion next year to deal with minors caught at the southern border. This is more than the $868 million requested by the Obama Administration in March. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has urged cooperation between the United States, Mexico and several Central American countries on the issue of migrant children. Cuellar’s letter was sent to U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. John Carter, chairman of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security, and U.S. Rep. David Price, ranking member of the same committee. Cuellar’s letter was sent also to U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, ranking member of the same committee. It was also sent to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member of the same committee. Here is Cuellar’s letter in full: June 2, 2014 In recent weeks, the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas has experienced an unprecedented influx of undocumented immigrant apprehensions and detentions, many of which are unaccompanied minors from countries other than Mexico. These crossings have created a resource crisis in the Rio Grande Valley that demands immediate attention from the federal government and the Appropriations Committee. Since the beginning of this year, over 145,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley sector, a more than 65 percent increase over the same period of Fiscal Year 2013. If current rates continue, the Rio Grande Valley is expected to have over 240,000 apprehensions for Fiscal Year 2014. On average, over 70 percent of apprehensions are Other Than Mexicans (OTM) and a large percentage of them are Unaccompanied Children (UAC). Currently, the Rio Grande Valley is apprehending approximately 300 UACs on a daily basis. I represent much of this area in the 28th District of Texas, which stretches from San Antonio in the north to Laredo and the much of the upper Rio Grande Valley. I have had extensive personal conversations with the men and women of Border Patrol in the past few weeks about this ongoing issue and they have laid out the issues straining the resources and personnel of Border Patrol. Every undocumented immigrant that is apprehended while attempting to cross the border must be processed by Border Patrol. With this unprecedented surge in crossings, the Rio Grande Valley is currently at more than 190 percent of its temporary detention capacity. Those that are detained are then transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Many others are released with a notice to appear before an immigration judge at a future date. This resource crisis requires a multi-agency response involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice. Because of the massive influx of immigrants being apprehended at the border, it is necessary to create a central location in which all elements of the adjudication process can be completed. We need to do a better job taking care of the children who are crossing the southern border unaccompanied and we must act immediately to avert a potential humanitarian crisis along the border. I am committed to working with Chairwoman Kay Granger, Ranking Member David Price, and the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee to work with our partners in Mexico and other Central American countries. Thank you for your consideration. If you require further information, do not hesitate to contact me, my legislative director Megan Swearingen, or my legislative assistant Wendell White at 225-1640. Sincerely, Henry Cuellar, PhD U.S. Congressman Texas District 28