WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many of the unaccompanied minors flooding across the border are refugees fleeing violence in their Central American home countries and should be treated as such, according to Texas Republican Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
“Yes, in some instances these are refugees. And this report indicated that these children are not coming for immigration issues; they’re being forcibly displaced. We ask Jordan to take the Syrian refugees, we ask Turkey to take the Syrian refugees, and all over the world there are refugees,” she said at a press conference Thursday, referring to a report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
The Texas Democrat argued that much of the influx is due to violence in the unaccompanied minors’ Central American home countries and human smugglers who lie about America’s policies to get parents to pay for transport northward.
“Under the United Nations agency for refugees it is clear that a part of the analysis is whether or not persons can be returned to these places. It is well documented that there is much violence in Central America [from] where these parents were sending these children,” Jackson Lee said, adding that she does not want children returned to those conditions but does want to abide by the law and have the cases adjudicated.
When asked if she expects the vast majority will stay, Jackson Lee said that she “cannot make that determination” but noted that she is a mother and concerned with matters related to children.
“I don’t want them to be treated unfairly because of political grandstanding,” she said. “We have a crisis that all of us should get our hands around, no matter what our political party is. We have children who are in need. So therefore if they are able to stay, I wouldn’t want them to be rejected because somebody is fearful of political accusations.”
“People are desperate; they will hear anything they want to hear,” she added, pointing to the misinformation spread, she said, by the human smugglers and cartels.
Customs and Border Patrol agents have said that the vast majority of unaccompanied minors they interview say they have come because they believe they can stay and were motivated to come for that reason.
Jackson Lee argued that there needs to a diplomatic response – as the administration has already initiated – with the Central American countries, as well as a logistical need for more immigration judges. The Texas congresswoman said she would be introducing legislation, Justice for Children Now, to add 70 new immigration judges to help alleviate the currently overwhelmed system.
“We should be able to handle them justly, we should have courts that can hear them, and they should not have to be in fear of their life,” she added.
Texas Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX), who joined Jackson Lee at the Thursday press conference, said that the influx further makes the argument for immigration reform. Vela also echoed Jackson Lee’s call for more immigration judges and the fact that the children are being driven to the United States due to a humanitarian crisis in Central America.
Since October more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the southwest border, many originating from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. By the end of the fiscal year that number is expected to top 90,000.