As a Member of Congress from a state on our southern border, I see firsthand the realities of illegal immigration. In fact, much of the recent public outcry originated from busloads of illegal immigrants dumped in Arizona a few short months ago. The strain placed on state and local governments overwhelms security, education, and medical services, making them harder to come by for citizens and immigrants alike.
We’ve all read the stories of blown budgets and rising crime, but Members of Congress who come from border states don’t need to read those stories. We are already acutely aware of the disproportionate toll illegal immigration takes on our districts, which is why I was honored to join with several of those members in serving on the House Border Crisis Working Group that spent the past month evaluating the issue and looking for the best solutions to address it.
Every member of Congress knows something must be done to tackle this crisis. The recommendations we proposed are common sense solutions that we all agree on–change the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPRA) to allow unaccompanied children from Central America to be treated the same as those from Canada and Mexico, secure our border with National Guardsmen, ensure Border Patrol agents full access to the border, and end what is referred to as “catch-and-release.” These four reasonable recommendations will help address this crisis and actually improve our immigration and border security policies.
First, we must end the catch-and-release policy that has been so heavily promoted in Central America. It’s true that the President’s unconstitutional actions surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals played a large part in creating this problem, but it is without doubt the story of “permisos,” or de facto citizenship while you wait for your immigration hearing, that have exacerbated it. If you enter the country illegally, you should be held until your appearance date in a secure government facility, not released and allowed to integrate into our communities as if citizenship is around the corner. This is the only proper way to ensure attendance at court dates, and a key tool in dissuading others from attempting to enter the country illegally.
Second, we propose placing the National Guard on the border. It is clear that the recent influx of the illegal border crossers, particularly the nearly 60,000 UACs so far this year, is an enormous load for our border agents to handle alone. Sending the National Guardsman to provide temporary relief will not only ensure that our border agents are able to again focus on drug and human traffickers, but also that the children continue to receive humane treatment.
Third, we need to give our Border Patrol agents the tools they need to enter any federal land in their search for those crossing the border illegally. As it stands now, our border agents are barred from entering “federally protected” land on or near the border due to concerns that their presence could harm the environment. The cartels are keenly aware of this fact, and–you guessed it–they utilize this loophole for their trafficking activities. Instead of protecting these areas for environmental reasons, the current policy is actually encouraging mass trampling and trash disposal on these lands. Allowing our border agents to access these lands and apprehend illegal border crossers will take away one of the cartels favorite entry points.
Finally, we must make a key change in our handling of unaccompanied minors who enter our country without authorization. Currently, the TVPRA treats unaccompanied children from Mexico and Canada differently from those of all other nations. To date, no one has provided a sound reason as to why the 2008 law discriminates amongst children of different nations, but it makes no difference. We need to provide parity in the treatment of children from all nations in order to provide a swifter mechanism to send them back home and deter their families from forcing them on the perilous journey in the first place.
Now, I understand that the biggest fear among my Republican colleagues is that the Senate will take advantage of our proposal and play politics; attaching some version of “comprehensive immigration reform” and sending it back to the House. They forget that we have an obligation as our nation’s leaders to take action.
Doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing allows the Obama Administration to continue their failed policies that have led to lack luster border protection, illegal immigrant families being released into our communities, and thousands of unaccompanied alien children being wards of the state for more than 3 years at enormous taxpayer expense. We can either pick up the President’s fumble and advance the ball by protecting our borders and requiring our immigration laws be enforced or we can watch the administration continue to fumble, leaving our communities to suffer the consequences.
Right now, the House is leading this debate with these thoughtful and bold recommendations. We’re holding the ball, but we need to act. We cannot be a team that is afraid of throwing a pass for fear that the other team might intercept it. We cannot snap the ball just to take a knee. That failed argument can be made for any legislation that we work on, but if that is our position, why are we here? The Speaker has guaranteed numerous times over the past year that we will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion, and he’s been as good as his word. He’s also been clear we won’t accept any attempt to offer a more targeted immigration reform measure, such as the DREAM Act, or any other immigration reform proposal. Such measures have no place in the effort to solve this crisis, and any attempt to add them will run into a brick wall in the People’s House.
If the Senate decides to play politics rather than address this crisis on our border, then it will be they that ultimately fail the country. If we decide to take a knee out of fear, we will never score, we will never win, and most importantly, we will fail to heed the cries of our constituents demanding action to secure our border.