McALLEN, July 1 - The federal government should follow the same successful strategy it adopted with Mexico and help improve the economies of Central American countries in order to reduce undocumented immigration into the U.S.
This will be one of the top recommendations made by the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) in testimony it will give at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in McAllen on Thursday. The field hearing is titled “Crisis on the Texas Border: Surge of Unaccompanied Minors.”
The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 60,000unaccompanied children will migrate to the United States in Fiscal Year 2014, which ends on Sept. 30. Many of these will come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, DHS predicts. Next year, DHS predicts that the number of unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. could reach 120,000.
Another key recommendation TBC will make to the House panel is that Congress gets serious about immigration reform. The group comprises cities, counties, economic development corporations and businesses from El Paso to Brownsville, a region that is home to about 2.1 million Americans.
“Congress needs to craft solutions that deal with the long-term problems that underpin this situation. For example, U.S. efforts to partner with the Mexican government to help improve their economy have helped reduce the numbers of Mexicans seeking illegal entry into our country. We should do the same with Central American nations to improve their economy and security situations,” the TBC states.
“Congress also needs to deal with a failed immigration system that fosters lawlessness. TBC recognizes the difficulty of the task, both in term of policy and politics. However, the reality remains that until you tackle immigration reform, no amount of security spending is going to achieve your desired ends.”
The House Homeland Security Committee field hearing takes place at the South Texas College technology campus in south McAllen, starting at 12 noon on Thursday. The committee will take invited testimony only.
TBC’s testimony will be given by its chairman, Pharr City Commissioner Adan Farias. The House Homeland Security Committee is chaired by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Austin, Texas. Two border congressmen from Texas are on the panel – Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville, and Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso. The ranking member of the committee is Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who toured the McAllen Border Patrol detention center last Saturday with Vela and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, a Democrat from Mercedes, Texas.
Here are the prepared remarks that will be made on behalf of TBC by Commissioner Farias:
Chairman McCaul and members: thank you for this opportunity to submit my statement on behalf of the Texas Border Coalition.
Our concern is the urgent need for collaboration with local community leaders who understand this region, as federal and state officials respond to the current humanitarian and security situation here on the border. Only by working closely with border communities can any state- or federal-level response hope to be successful.
The Texas Border Coalition is made up of elected and business leaders who strive to speak on behalf of 2.1 million Americans in 17 border counties of the 1,250-mile Texas-Mexico border. Ours is a region of contrasts, exhibiting differences and similarities of language, culture, tradition, and economy. The multi-national, multi-cultural nature of our communities on both sides of the international boundary gives our region a distinct sense of place.
The Texas Border Coalition welcomes your committee to the border region today, even for the solemn purpose of this hearing. Those of us who live, work and raise our families here experience daily the tremendous vitality of our border communities, and we welcome each of you to experience a little of the region we call home. However, all too often the attention of state and federal officials only turns our way in times of real or perceived crisis. And so it is today.
There is a humanitarian and security crisis in progress here, and although it has only recently captured the attention of the national media, this situation has been unfolding for over a year. In recent months, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, some heartbreakingly young, have entered the U.S. illegally. Most of them have travelled here from Central America. They are lured by the mistaken belief, partly spread by criminals who profit from their journey, that they will be allowed to remain in the United States. Some of the youngest are with their mothers and some have relatives in the U.S., but most of these children are totally alone.
There are those who argue that the influx of illegal child immigrants proves the failure of border security, but that argument misses the point. Unlike other undocumented immigrants, these children are not trying to hide. As soon as these children enter U.S. territory, they are eager to turn themselves in to the authorities, because they believe what the traffickers have told them; they believe the government will let them stay.
To the contrary, many of them are housed in deplorable conditions in our summer heat or dropped off at a bus station to find their way to relatives, in preparation for legal proceedings to determine whether they can be deported back to their home countries.
So now they’re here, and you’re here. The Rio Grande Valley, which is my home and has been all of my life, is probably just about as foreign to many of you as it is to the Central American children. But to our local business and community leaders, this is home. Leaders like my neighbor and fellow TBC member Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen, whose community has responded swiftly and generously to the needs of these Central American children and families. Our local and county leaders know our border region like you know your hometowns, and we can and should play a crucial role in the state and federal response to this situation.
I urge you to form a partnership with local and county elected leaders, local law enforcement agencies, business leaders and our faith community to find real solutions to the influx of immigrant children. This does not need to be, and should not be, a formal, bureaucratic process that takes months to convene. The problems are too pressing. We need a straightforward collaborative process that gets local leaders to the table with state and federal decision makers to develop practical, real-world solutions to these problems. And we need to figure out a way to fairly compensate the communities that shouldered the burden.
Texas Border Coalition is on the record in many different forums about the dire need for more investments at the border crossings to increase manpower, upgrade technology and modernize infrastructure. We welcome Congressional interest in expenditures on border security in response to the flood of children from Central America. However, without immediate and ongoing collaboration with local border communities, the proposed billions in federal tax dollars for “aggressive deterrence,” and state and federal law enforcement resources require local collaboration and local knowledge of the needs of border communities to be successful.
We suggest dealing immediately with the crisis that confronts the children trekking here from Central America. Our communities have been working closely with other local governments, law enforcement agencies, community groups and faith partners to make sure we can continue to aid the humanitarian effort. I am proud of these efforts and the contributions of many of our citizen volunteers and donors.
Congress needs to craft solutions that deal with the long-term problems that underpin this situation. For example, U.S. efforts to partner with the Mexican government to help improve their economy have helped reduce the numbers of Mexicans seeking illegal entry into our country. We should do the same with Central American nations to improve their economy and security situations.
Congress also needs to deal with a failed immigration system that fosters lawlessness. TBC recognizes the difficulty of the task, both in term of policy and politics. However, the reality remains that until you tackle immigration reform, no amount of security spending is going to achieve your desired ends.
Thank you again for traveling to our border home and for your interest in finding solutions for the current situation. The Texas Border Coalition stands ready to partner with state and federal officials to craft practical solutions that fit border communities and relieve human suffering, while making smart, effective improvements to border security. We look forward to working alongside you to resolve this crisis.