BROWNSVILLE, July 8 - Congressmen Filemon Vela has given an update on the tens of thousands of children fleeing Central America for the United States.
In a letter to constituents Vela said he toured a Border Patrol detention facility. “I saw hundreds of children, without their parents, in overcrowded holding facilities designed for adults. The scope of this crisis is heartbreaking.”
Here is Vela’s letter in full:
July 7, 2014
Since the beginning of last October, more than 52,000 children — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador--have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of these children are fleeing violence and low socioeconomic conditions in their native countries and are risking their lives to travel through cartel controlled regions of Mexico and cross into the U.S.
I hosted House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Congressman Steven Horsford (D-NV), and Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) in Brownsville to tour the Brownsville Border Patrol Station and receive a briefing from Chief Patrol Agent of the Rio Grande Valley Sector Kevin Oaks on the growing unaccompanied minor crisis. Border Patrol agents are doing the best they can to attend to the children while they await placement in a United States Department of Health and Human Services facility. On the tour I saw hundreds of children, without their parents, in overcrowded holding facilities designed for adults. The scope of this crisis is heartbreaking.
I believe that three separate crises exist. First, many of these unaccompanied minors are coming to the U.S. in search of their parents who are working at hotels, restaurants, farms, and construction sites in the U.S. Thus, this recent influx is directly tied to our country’s immigration reform crisis. Second, we have an urgent logistical crisis with respect to the detention and the removal adjudication process. Third, violence and socioeconomic conditions in Central America are causing these children to flee, creating a foreign policy crisis.
While Leader Pelosi was in Brownsville, we also attended a meeting with non-profit and religious organizations which serve immigrants such as Catholic Charities, NINOS Head Start, Proyecto de Libertad and Rio Grande Valley Equal Network.
Additionally, I toured the McAllen Border Patrol Station with Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa. After our visits to the McAllen and Brownsville Border Patrol facilities, President Obama announced that he will use his existing executive power to fix our immigration system. The human faces expressing sadness, fear, and angst require that we treat these individuals with dignity and respect, and that we help meet their very basic health and nutritional needs during their detention. Second, the men and women involved in caring for these individuals while navigating them through the legal process need increased support now. I hope that as the President uses his executive power during the initial stages of this very difficult process, that we swiftly address these two immediate concerns.
Last week, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee held a field hearing in McAllen, Texas titled, “Crisis on the Texas Border: Surge of Unaccompanied Minors.”
Witnesses included Chief of the Border Patrol for the Rio Grande Valley Sector Kevin Oaks, Director of Texas Department of Public Safety Steve McCraw, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, Bishop Mark Seitz, and Governor Rick Perry. Given the large numbers of children entering the U.S. and being held in Border Patrol facilitates, I thought it was important that members of Congress, especially those who serve on the Homeland Security Committee, see the crisis firsthand and hear from individuals form South Texas such as Judge Garcia. As Judge Garcia explained, this "is not just a South Texas or Rio Grande Valley problem. The overwhelming majority of the people coming across as well as the drugs that are smuggled into our country pass through here en route to other parts of the country.” Judge Garcia also noted, “the people of the Rio Grande Valley are compassionate and caring. Our communities have come together to assist in the humanitarian aid that local charities are providing to the women and children who are fortunate enough to have made it here."
Member of Congress