Reid: Southern border is secure

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday asserted the southern border is secure despite the massive surge of illegal minors from Central America that has overwhelmed federal agencies.

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“The border is secure,” he told reporters after the Senate Democrats’ weekly policy lunch. “[Sen.] Martin Heinrich [(D-N.M.)] talked to the caucus today. He’s a border state senator. He said he can say without any equivocation the border is secure.”

Reid said lawmakers need to worry less about border security and focus instead on President Obama’s $3.7 billion request to help process the tens of thousands of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who have been apprehended on the border.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson warned Congress last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is due to run out of money by mid-August because of the large number of minors attempting to cross into Texas. He said Customs and Border Protection would run out of funding by mid-September.

He estimated that as many as 90,000 illegal minors would be apprehended by the end of September.

Reid on Tuesday downplayed the need for Congress to change the law to speed the deportations of minors on the Texas border.

“My personal belief — there is the law that has created some of the controversy now, there’s enough ... leeway there [that] the executive branch of government doesn’t need new legislation,” he said referring to the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

Some critics have blamed that law for the surge of minors because it grants an advocate and court date to children from non-neighboring countries who arrive in the United States illegally.

All members of the Senate will receive a special briefing from the administration at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday on the growing illegal immigration crisis on the Texas border, Reid announced.

He also dismissed a bipartisan proposal by Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) to expedite deportations as “too broad.”

“From all the reports I’ve gotten, the answer for me is no, I won’t support it,” he said.

“I believe our No. 1 concern should be this narrow issue of we take care of this situation we have on the border. As I’ve been told, the Cornyn-Cuellar legislation covers a lot of other issues other than the problem we’re having on the border,” he said.

Reid said if the House had passed the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, there would not be a surge of illegal immigrant minors from Central America.

The Cornyn-Cuellar bill would amend the Wilberforce trafficking law by treating unaccompanied migrant children from Central America the same as those from Mexico. Under current law, Mexican children do not receive the same due process rights as minors from Central America and are deported on a much shorter timeframe.

Cornyn-Cuellar would allow unaccompanied minors to make a claim for asylum in the United States before an immigration judge within seven days of receiving a screening from the Department of Health and Human Services.

It would require immigration judges to determine whether these children are eligible to remain in the country within 72 hours of their claim for asylum.

It would also require a plan for additional resources to be deployed to achieve operational control of the southern border.