Over the past several months, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors -- almost all of them from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Mexico -- have been detained at our southern border while crossing illegally into the United States. A large percentage have been found in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas.
Sadly, this ongoing humanitarian crisis is very much a man-made crisis. More specifically, it is a direct result of President Obama’s misguided immigration policies.
Two years ago, the president stood in the Rose Garden and announced a unilateral change to U.S. immigration policy regarding children. Between that policy change and his broader refusal to uphold our immigration laws, he created a powerful incentive for children to cross into the United States illegally.
Don’t just take my word for it. “There is growing evidence,” reports the Washington Post, “that a surge of tens of thousands of Central American minors across the Mexican border into Texas is being driven in large part by the perception they will be allowed to stay under the Obama administration’s immigration policies.”
Consider the numbers. In fiscal year 2011, roughly 6,560 unaccompanied alien children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border. That figure grew to nearly 25,000 in 2013, a year after the President’s Rose Garden Speech, and U.S. officials estimate that it could reach 90,000 in 2014, before surging to 142,000 (or higher) in 2015.
In other words, policies that were supposedly adopted for humanitarian reasons have produced a humanitarian disaster.
Make no mistake: The migration journey from southern Mexico to the Rio Grande is among the most treacherous in the world. In his 2013 book, "The Beast," Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez documents the horrific violence that is routinely inflicted on migrants by drug traffickers, gang members, and human smugglers. The risks to women are especially harrowing: Experts believe that at least six out of every ten female migrants become victims of sexual assault.
Indeed, migrant women are preyed upon by ruthless Mexican drug cartels such as the Zetas. For example, an official from the mayor’s office in Ciudad Hildago (a Mexican city along the Guatemalan border) told Martínez that “in Ciudad Hidalgo the Zetas control all trafficking, sending men to recruit women in Central America and sometimes even kidnapping migrant women riding the buses. They sell the women to truck drivers for a night and then throw them away like unwanted scraps.”
There is nothing “humane” about encouraging people to travel through cartel-dominated smuggling routes in hopes of reaching the United States. Yet that has been the effect of President Obama’s policies.
I therefore call on the president to immediately do five things:
First, he should publicly (and repeatedly) declare that the so-called deferred-action programs he announced in June 2012 will not apply to the children currently arriving at the border.
Second, he should publicly (and repeatedly) discourage people in Central America and elsewhere from sending their children on such a dangerous journey through Mexico.
Third, he should start enforcing all U.S. immigration laws, not simply the ones he finds politically convenient.
Fourth, he should make sure that Texas and other U.S. border states have the resources they need to handle the migrant influx.
Fifth, he should work with Mexican officials to improve security at their border with Guatemala, which most of these children appear to be crossing.
If the president took all those steps, not only would it help us resolve the current crisis, it would also help prevent a similar crisis from erupting in the future.
Republican John Cornyn represents Texas in the United States Senate where he serves on the Judiciary Committee. He is a former state attorney general.