American foreign aid can be catalyst for change
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At this moment, there are caravans of people, including thousands of unaccompanied children, trekking through Central America and Mexico to reach the southern border of the United States.

Because of Democrats’ empty promises to grant amnesty, rumors of open borders have spread throughout Central America and spurred thousands of families to pay coyotes to bring their children and family members across the desert to the United States. Those children who survive the journey and are apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection are brought to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (HHS-ORR).


Contrary to some public reporting, this is not a new phenomenon. Foreigners have been crossing the Rio Grande River in search of a better life since before the United States and Mexico delineated a border. However, in 2014, Americans’ attention was suddenly fixated on our southern border when the number of unaccompanied alien children crossing into the United States reached crisis levels.

As a physician and representative of a border state, I felt it necessary to visit the facilities caring for these unaccompanied children – and what I found in 2014 was disturbing. Children, many of whom arrived with illnesses or injuries from their difficult journey, lacked even basic medical care. Also concerning was the number of potential trafficking victims who were not identified, or when self-reported, did not receive appropriate services. As I learned more about the thousands of children pouring across the southern border from Central America, it became clear that President Obama’s administration was failing to provide to adequate – let alone acceptable – care.

Today, the HHS-ORR facilities I first toured in 2014 are almost unrecognizable. Nearly five years ago, I fought to ensure that all shelters would employ a doctor on-site. Now, shelters have round-the-clock medical and dental care, climate-controlled living quarters, education staff, and recreational activities. HHS Secretary Alex Azar and his team are committed to providing quality care to the thousands of children currently entrusted to HHS custody.

The contrast is striking. During a trip to a Tornillo, Texas shelter over the summer, I found children watching the World Cup on television and playing soccer on an artificial turf field – a far cry from the scenes I encountered during my first trips.

Such care comes at a steep cost. For each child in HHS custody, American taxpayers are on the hook for as much as $775 a day, per child. Considering that nearly 30,000 people are crossing the border each month without the benefit of citizenship, many of whom are unaccompanied minors, these costs are staggering.

Over the summer, I traveled to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to see firsthand the conditions that are spurring families to send their children across the Mexican desert atop of La Bestia, a dangerous train that traverses Mexico. Each country faces individual challenges, but the pervading cycle of corruption, poverty, and violence undeniably is leading to irregular migration throughout the region.

While I am encouraged by the work of USAID and non-governmental organizations working in this region, I have been disappointed in the lack of executive leadership in these countries. Clearly, the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have not been motivated to employ the resources needed to improve conditions for their people. Despite asking for the top job, these leaders have failed to deliver the results they have promised to their people.

During my time in Washington, I have learned that foreign aid can be a powerful motivator for our international neighbors. That’s why I first introduced legislation back in July 2014 that would reduce America’s foreign assistance to the countries that send their children to be cared for in the United States. My reasoning is two-fold: First, America’s taxpayers should not be charged twice for the same purpose, in both foreign assistance and HHS-ORR funding. Second, America’s taxpayer dollars must not be permitted to continue to line the pockets of corrupt government officials; Congress must ensure that American aid reaches the organizations on the ground that are truly working to create a better life for these citizens.

Some critics of this strategy claim that this approach is harsh or unfair. Last week, after President Donald Trump tweeted his support for this plan, the cable news circuits were ablaze with outrage at the suggestion of reducing foreign aid to those in need.

However, if America keeps doing what we have been doing, we will keep getting what we have been getting. Quite simply, American taxpayer dollars are much better spent helping to provide a better life for those in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras than spent caring for their children in HHS-ORR custody. To change the status quo and create a better life for those who otherwise would be driven to trek across the Mexican desert to our southern border, the American government must act.  

I stand by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE’s commitment to secure American borders and ensure that American foreign aid reaches the intended recipients. After the previous administration’s lack of concern for the dire situation on our southern border, I am grateful to see Trump’s impassioned response to this crisis. If President Trump would like Congress to take up this endeavor, there’s a Burgess bill waiting.

Burgess represents the 26th District of Texas and is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.