Consequences of GOP inaction on immigration reform on display at border

House Judiciary Chair Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteLobbying world Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Overnight Finance: Anxiety grows over Brexit vote | Investors prefer Trump to Clinton in poll | Key chairman open to censuring IRS chief MORE (R-Va.) knows better. 

As a former immigration attorney he understands that in 2008 both Houses of Congress came together and unanimously voted to protect undocumented children from human trafficking and persecution. In fact, Goodlatte voted for the legislation known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act which former President George W. Bush signed into law. We should all be proud that our elected officials set aside partisan differences and made clear our commitment to protecting unaccompanied children at risk of human trafficking or persecution.  It speaks volumes about our values as a nation.

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Goodlatte also understands that the anti-human trafficking law requires that children from countries that do not share a land border with the U.S.—such as those from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—must be transferred by immigration agents to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services until a determination can be made—usually by an immigration judge—whether they have been victims of human trafficking or persecution.

So, it’s particularly insidious that Goodlatte so deceptively blames the humanitarian crisis at America’s southwest border on the administration’s “lack of commitment to enforcing immigration laws.”  And he’s hardly alone.  Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico McConnell tees up House Puerto Rico bill MORE (R-Texas) has echoed his comments and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has cynically seized upon it to call for the deportation of DREAMers.

Lack of commitment to immigration enforcement?  Really? Where have these politicians been for the past five years?

Maybe they should ask the thousands and thousands of American families torn apart by the deportation of more than a million people, including hard working mothers and fathers split from their children.  Or maybe they should visit Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities around the country in which 34,000 immigrant men, woman and children are locked up each night.  Or perhaps they should talk to local law enforcement agencies about the Administration’s so-called “Secure Communities” program which erodes community trust and their ability to work with good citizens to keep communities safe.

What’s needed from Congress to solve the humanitarian crisis at the border is leadership, not cheap partisan politics.  Finger pointing and politicizing the plight of children does nothing solve the crisis or keep America’s borders secure.  To the contrary, the political exploitation of the suffering of children is a new low in American politics.  Worse, it sows the seeds of bigotry and hatred in places like Murietta, California where angry protesters blocked buses transporting immigrant children to a Border Patrol processing station.

There are no words to describe the horror these immigrant children have faced on their journey through Mexico toward the U.S traveling in suffocating heat and without adequate water, food or medical care. Those that reach the southwest U.S. arrive tired, hungry, thirsty and terrified.  Many of the young girls have been raped or otherwise sexually abused.  Countless other children disappear along the way or, like the Guatemalan boy found dead last week, suffer a terrible death alone in the Mexican desert.

Republicans and Democrats must work with the administration to ensure that the victimized children migrating to the U.S. are not only afforded due process, but are treated with care and compassion and are not subject to more abuse and cruelty by those charged with their care. The children must be carefully interviewed by professionals extensively trained in questioning children who are victims or at risk of human trafficking, persecution or torture. That includes sensitivity that a child rape victim may not be able to articulate the horrific violence that she has suffered en route.

The administration has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency aid to deal with the crisis.  Whether the request is adequate or even appropriate will be the subject of robust debate in the coming days.  If they have better ideas or can improve upon the president’s proposal, the Republicans in Congress ought to work with Democrats and the White House in a bipartisan effort to end the humanitarian crisis, not simply answer with nasty partisan rancor.

Solutions to this humanitarian crisis must be founded in principled, concrete measures to protect the unaccompanied children and address the root causes of the migration—including economic strife, violent crime and gang violence in Central America. While it’s easy to point fingers and lay blame, the reality is that these children would not be compelled to make the journey to the U.S. if they were safe and secure at home.

This crisis stands as a stark reminder that immigration policy is serious business which has real consequences for real people.  If nothing else, the plight of tens of thousands of children pouring into the U.S. underscores the need to fix the dysfunctional statutes and regulations we call our immigration law. Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE (R-Ohio) and his leadership team should think twice about their irresponsible refusal to take up immigration reform this year.  The House owes it to the American people to enact a safe, orderly, and fair immigration policy.  One that will keep our borders secure, protect American families, keep our businesses competitive and offer protection to the most vulnerable among us.

Leopold is former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

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