Border Patrol stations like the ones in Brownsville and Nogales, both in Arizona, were not meant for long-term custody. Immigrants are supposed to wait there until they are processed and taken to detention centers, but the surge in children arriving without their parents has overwhelmed the U.S. government.
In the latest of a series of meetings that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has held with President Obama, members of the group on Wednesday pushed for the administration to treat the unaccompanied minors as humanitarian cases and again reiterated using discretion to scale back deportations.
The meeting, requested by the CHC, whose members all are Democrats, occurred as Obama is under fire from all sides of the immigration debate over how he has handled the soaring numbers of immigrants from Central America arriving illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border, and specifically the nearly 60,000 children who have arrived alone.
CHC members want the administration to do everything possible to help the children who qualify to stay here to be able to, and stem the generally high rate of deportations that have occurred during Obama's tenure.
“I saw a compassionate President who listened to our position on the deportation crisis that families and communities are facing in America,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who has been the most vocal proponent in Congress for providing a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants. “We urged the President to be as broad and expansive in using prosecutorial discretion and executive action as the Republicans have been narrow and mean-spirited when it comes to immigrants and immigration.”
Gutierrez is chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Republicans blamed the president's decision to relax some deportation rules for fueling rumors circulating in Central America that once here, migrant kids would be allowed to stay. Refugee resettlement groups that have interviewed children from the border crisis say that the majority say they fled violence and the pressure by gangs to “join or die.”
The Obama administration asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds that includes funding for the Justice Department to hire 40 new immigration judge teams and about $1 billion for immigration enforcement efforts within the Homeland Security Department to help speed removal of immigrant families traveling with children, in addition to about $295 million to support repatriation, reintegration and border security efforts in Central America.
The Justice Department also said that deportation cases involving families and unaccompanied children would be moved to the top of court dockets. That means lower-priority cases will take even longer to wend through a system where there's a backlog of more than 360,000 deportation cases.
Lawmakers who want a hard line on dealing with influx are pressing for scaling back a 2008 law, called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which allowed for more leniency regarding unaccompanied minors who come from countries other than Mexico and Canada.
Many of the kids who are part of the more recent influx are seeking to stay in the United States through that law.
The CHC said it is firmly opposed to making that law more restrictive.
“There are times when the United States must show why it is the greatest nation on earth and how we treat children fleeing violence is one of those times,” Gutierrez said. “These are refugees in need of help. We would denounce any country overseas that attacks, protests, and turns back children fleeing violence and turmoil. And as a great nation we must set an example for others when it comes to the rule of law and the generosity of our people.”
While the CHC meeting sought to put some onus on the president and his policies and recent responses to the border crisis, they joined Obama in placing the spotlight back on Republicans in Congress, who have blocked efforts in the House to pass immigration measures that would provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants.
“They all agreed that ultimately it is Congress - not the President - that can enact long-term legislative solutions to our nation's most pressing problems,” said a statement by the CHC after the meeting. “The President and the CHC continue to urge Republicans to work with us on finding a comprehensive and sensible solution to our nation's broken immigration system.”
Includes reporting by The Associated Press.