Drug use in the United States is destabilizing Central America, leading directly to a spike in immigrant children at the Texas border, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez charged Monday.
The Illinois Democrat, Congress's loudest proponent of an immigration overhaul, argued that America's role in fueling the cartel violence means the Obama administration has a responsibility to "keep [those kids] in a safe place" instead of sending them back into dangerous spots.
"That's the tradition of America," Gutiérrez said in an interview with MSNBC. "We have a humanitarian crisis. I think this is an important point that the American people must come to understand."
Gutiérrez said the violence, poverty and sheer power of the drug cartels in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have given many of the migrants little choice but to flee. He blamed U.S. drug users for promoting those conditions.
"How do the drug cartels maintain their power? With American guns bought with American dollars because of American consumption of the drugs," he said. "The drugs don't stay in Honduras. They don't stay in Mexico. They come straight to the streets of the United States of America.
"And so, I think we have a great responsibility in the debilitating of those countries."
The comments came on the same day the White House indicated that most of the children attempting to cross the border will likely be deported.
"It is unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And what that means is, it means that they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned.”
It's a message that will come as little surprise to Gutiérrez, who acknowledged Monday that "most of them will lose their petitions for asylum."
"Most of them will be deported," Gutiérrez said. "That's the sad situation because those are our laws."
Republicans and some Democrats have hammered President Obama's handling of the border crisis, with some saying the administration is simply being too lenient on the new arrivals.
"The thing this administration needs to do is immediately deport these families, these children," Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), an immigration lawyer who has worked with Gutiérrez on the issue, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult. But they're creating a crisis at this time that is actually going to harm these children."
Gutiérrez said he was stunned that the same Republicans preparing to sue Obama for alleged abuses of executive power are now asking the president to ignore the laws dictating the handling of immigrant detainees.
"I was almost flabbergasted," Gutiérrez said of Labrador's comments.
The Democrat said the crisis is just another reason why Congress should step in with legislation to overhaul the nation's broken immigration system — a route House GOP leaders have refused to go. He slammed Republicans for criticizing Obama without offering their own solutions.
"Shame on people who want to exploit children," Gutierrez said. "You want to change the law? I'm here. I'm ready. Let's sit down at a table and let's get this done together."