Nightmare at the border

The humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding along the Southwest border and, in particular, in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, is nothing shy of tragic.

In 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stated that 6,500 unaccompanied children illegally crossed the Southwest border into the United States.  In 2014, CBP is estimating that number to rise ten-fold, to at least 66,000 children.

Tens of thousands of children are being smuggled, trafficked, exploited, and even abused by vast criminal networks to a point in which our federal law enforcement agencies are being overwhelmed.  Something must be done and done immediately.

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Over the past three weeks, our Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security has held hearings with the leadership of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CBP.  What we have uncovered is that the Obama administration has indisputably created an invitational posture for illegal immigrants.  This posture has created a gravitational pull so strong, that illegal immigrants are willing to put their own children in harm’s way in order to take advantage of the President’s determination to evade the law. 

And while the motive of the president is undeniably political, the actual result of his refusal to enforce existing law has been a humanitarian crisis and a law enforcement nightmare.  Scores of children – many of which are malnourished and abused along their treacherous journey– are being dropped off by smugglers at our ports of entry; CBP’s Border Patrol stations are overwhelmed and struggling to care for these children; ICE agents are being pulled off the border and from their critical investigative work in order to escort children to their parents, who are also oftentimes undocumented, thousands of miles away; and the budget for the Office of Refugee Resettlement – which is statutorily required to care for unaccompanied minors – has exploded by nearly 200 percent to almost a $1 billion in fiscal year 2014.

How did we get here?  How did our immigration system go from stressed and perhaps dysfunctional to broken?  Did we not learn after 9/11 that the integrity of our border and immigration system in fact matters to our homeland security?  Does the President not realize the horrendous impact of his short-sighted and politically driven policies?

Let’s review precisely what President Obama has done with respect to immigration reform:

  • President Obama has never submitted an immigration reform proposal to Congress.
  • President Obama has indiscriminately politicized ICE.  Whether it’s the president’s repeated proposals to slash ICE’s budget for enforcement, or the blatant empowering of his policy advisors to meddle with ICE’s operations and further prevent them from performing their immigration enforcement duties, no agency in the federal government has been more politicized and more tampered with by the Obama Administration than ICE.
  • President Obama unilaterally established the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other deferred action programs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services –programs that circumvent existing law and Congress’ oversight of appropriations.

And, it is the establishment of the DACA program that we must examine further.  The correlation between the establishment of DACA in 2011 and the dramatic increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border over the past three years is clear and unmistakable.  This illegal program has created that “gravitational pull” that I spoke of earlier, and its perverse effect is tens of thousands of children as victims of human smuggling and trafficking.

I hope the president will recognize the humanitarian costs his policies are inflicting and will reconsider.  It is reprehensible to think this administration is using unaccompanied children as a political ploy to compel immigration reform.  Rather, if the president were serious about reforming our broken immigration system, he would start by establishing credibility to actually enforce the law and submit a bona fide reform proposal to Congress.

I will continue to address this issue and address it with vigor.  The president cannot operate under the law as he wishes it to be; he must adhere to the law as it is written.  The simple fact is that immigration and border enforcement matters… it matters to the safety and security of our communities and to the safety of the very immigrants themselves. The Congress and the American people must demand that the President respect and enforce our laws. We must repeal these failed policies and turn off this magnet for human trafficking of children. Most importantly we must stop sacrificing our border security, our national security and the safety of American citizens and immigrants alike over childish/irresponsible attempts to win votes in future elections. 

Therefore, as the chairman of the subcommittee responsible for appropriations to all DHS agencies, I will continue to ensure our brave men and women in CBP and ICE have the resources they need to carry out their missions.  To do anything less would be a dereliction of duty and would further empower the evil criminal networks that are profiting from the confusing and misguided policies of the President….and we can no longer allow that to happen.  I urge all of my colleagues in Washington to join me in solving this critical situation.

Carter has represented Texas's 31st Congressional District since 2003. He is chairman of Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security. 

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