Dem: Policy changes not needed for crisis

Anne Wernikoff

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) signaled Wednesday she will not amend a 2008 human trafficking law with the emergency spending bill addressing the Texas border crisis.

Mikulski also questioned Republican calls to deploy the National Guard to help secure the Southern border.

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She argued the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act did not cause the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America, as some critics contend. Instead, she said gang violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and human smugglers known as coyotes are to blame.

“Our problem is not the children. Our problem is what causes the children to come. We have to go after what causes the children to come and that’s the drug dealers, the smugglers, the coyotes, those that are engaging in such violent crime,” she said on the Senate floor.

Mikulski noted that many of the children apprehended at the border turn themselves in. They often come to border control officers with pieces of paper bearing their names and then are placed into holding cells.

“What’s our national guard going to do?” she said. “When these little kids cross the Rio Grande, they’re going to go right up to that soldier, put their arms around his or her leg and say, ‘I need to be safe, can you help me?’

“It is not a border enforcement problem. It is a criminal gang problem in Central America,” she added.

She urged Republican colleagues to support the $4.3 billion emergency spending bill, which includes $600 million for fighting wildfires in the West, even without policy changes.

Some Republicans said privately on Wednesday that the supplemental bill would not garner a single GOP vote if it did not make any changes to the trafficking act. The 2008 bill grants a court date and advocate to unaccompanied minors from non-neighboring countries. There is such a backlog of cases that it can take as long as five years to process each one.

Republicans want illegal child immigrants from Central America to be treated the same as those from Mexico, who have only 48 hours to make an asylum claim and then face immediate deportation.

“The situation is dire and the president of the United States has asked for emergency funding to deal with it,” Mikulski said. “I hope that we consider this emergency funding.”

She said $3.7 billion in the bill will pay for the care of the children while they are being processed by immigration authorities, the improvement of border enforcement and for “robust deterrence” in the countries from where they emigrate.

A portion of it will fund a “massive” educational campaign in Central America to persuade families not to send their children with smugglers to the United States.