Center Seat: Sen. Jeff Flake on immigration crisis

Arizona senator takes Center Seat


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Joining us tonight in our Center Seat, Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who well knows as a border -- representing a border state about the immigration issue. Senator thanks for being here.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R - AZ: Thanks for having me.

BAIER: We're awaiting the president in Dallas and we may have to interrupt for his remarks after that roundtable discussion.

First of all, what do you think should to be done about these kids who have come over largely from Central America?

FLAKE: First and foremost we've got to stem the tide of them coming still.  And the best thing the president can do is to treat kids from Central America like we treat kids from Mexico and Canada, the so-called contiguous countries. Unfortunately the law as it reads right now say kids coming from those countries need to see a judge rather than have an administrative hearing, and it means that HHS has to place them with a parent or legal guardian around the country, and then typically they just don't show up for any court hearing. And so they are here, and the smugglers know that, and the families in Central America know that. These are tightknit communities. And until busloads or, in this case, planeloads of children come back, they are going to keep coming north.

BAIER: I want to ask you about the dual tracks we have here. There are two different things. This crisis about these kids from Central America, and then the issue overall of comprehensive immigration reform that the president keeps talking about. If the bill that you were for and you voted for passed the House and was law, would it change in dramatic ways or any way the situation they're dealing with now in the Southern states?

FLAKE: Yes, we would have had significantly more resources on the border itself to actually deal with this situation. And we would have far more resources in the courts to bring these cases to trial faster or these deportation hearings. And so, yes, I think it would help quite a bit. I'm still for that bill. I think it was a good bill. I hope the House moves on it. It's unlikely that any kind of immigration reform is going to move in this environment, and that's another reason to move forward and fix this crisis right now. It's a crisis. It's a big one. These kids are subjected to a lot of things they shouldn't be subjected to. And it's really something the president needs pay attention to.

BAIER: Jason?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: You mentioned more resources, so the president is asking for more money. Would you give it to him, and if so, how should he use it?

FLAKE: My concern with the president's request, it's a $3.7 billion request. Most of it, in fact the bulk of it is for HHS. HHS doesn't do anything on the border. HHS's role is actually to settle these kids, to put them with a guardian or a parent. And so the message that is sent with this proposal before Congress is the current situation is going to continue in the future.

RILEY: How should he use the money?

FLAKE: The money should be used -- there ought be more for actually border activities and significantly more on the legal side to actually process these cases faster. We ought to also spend more money in these countries at consulates so if there are colorable cases of intimidation or persecution, then these families can actually apply there. And so there are things that can be done. Unfortunately, this package before Congress right now just sends the wrong message completely.

BAIER: Mara?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: You talk about it getting more border security. I understand that these kids are not sneaking by border agents. They are literally falling into the arms of the agents and turning themselves in in the mistaken belief they are going to get asylum. So how would how having more agents stop them from coming from Central America?

FLAKE: Significantly. Once they get here, to be able to process those claims and be able to take care of them, that's the biggest thing.

LIASSON: The president is asking for more judges and more courts.

FLAKE: He is, but that's a small part. I think that's about $50 million of a $3.7 billion request. And a lot of those are lawyers for those kids and not judges to actually process those cases. So we need to get significantly more resource there's. And the immigration bill we supported in the Senate had significantly more resources.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I guess I'm interested to know what do you think is the primary cause of this surge. We've seen these numbers jump so exponentially. And you have on one hand conservatives saying look this is the problem with the president, his unwillingness to change the law, the 2008 law, and you have on the other hand supporters of immigration reform and those on the left saying, look, it's the violence in Central and South America.

FLAKE: We have had violence in Central and South America for quite a while. It hasn't spiked up in the past year that would give rise to this kind of crossing. What we do have is a report from the border patrol in May. They interviewed 250 crossers in a two week period, and found that in 95 percent of the cases, 95 percent, they said that it was the belief that when they got here they would have some kind of legal status.

Now, that isn't true, and the president has rightly said DOCA or president's deferred action or any legislation passed by the Senate or contemplated by the House, none of that would apply to these kids. But that doesn't stop the cartels and the human smuggler from spreading that word in these countries. And when these kids get here they are taken by HHS and then placed out there with families or guardians, and so the cartels say, see, this is what happens.

BAIER: So do you think the 2008 law has to be changed or that the president has the authority now to be able to round these kids up and send them home?

FLAKE: Initially, the president said he would like more authority, specifically this. Now he is saying he may have that. We would like to give it to him to get any doubt out, and we have legislation, I just introduced an amendment, frankly, to the sportsman bill and we'll keep trying to attach it, which would treat kids from these countries just like we treat kids from Mexico and Canada, the contiguous countries.

BAIER: May I interrupt you here, senator. More with Senator Flake when we get back. We're waiting live in Dallas for President Obama as he gets ready for making some remarks after that roundtable. Senator, stay with us. Back after this.