BROWNSVILLE, June 6 - U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela says he would welcome a congressional fact-finding trip to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to find out why tens of thousands of minors are fleeing those countries to come to the U.S.
Like President Obama, Vela has called the recent surge of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States from Mexico a “humanitarian crisis.” According to a draft Department of Homeland Security document, 90,000 such minors are expected to cross the southwest border in the 2014 fiscal year. Most are expected to come from Central America.
“Of course it would be productive for members of Congress to see what is going on in Central America and in Mexico. As far as fact-finding trips, we will just have to wait and see what happens, whether those are planned or not I do not know,” Vela, D-Brownsville, told the Guardian.
“This is a crisis that has seen extraordinary developments overnight. Obviously, it is a humanitarian crisis when you have three year olds being detained. The White House has responded, I think, in a relatively expeditious fashion but there is a whole lot more to do. We will be working with the Secretary and the Commissioner of Border Patrol to see what we need to do next.”
Vela said the recent surge in arrests of immigrant children from Central American countries is proof that the issue of border security is not solely one that can be addressed through cooperation with Mexico.
“Given the recent influx of minors that are being detained at our border we now know that the problems of violence are not contained to Mexico. We now have some very serious issues in Honduras and Guatemala, for example, that we have to take a very serious look at,” Vela said.
“These are foreign policy issues. We spend a lot of time with foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East, not to mention Eastern Europe and Asia, but Central America and Mexico are part of our continent and I think we need to be looking at our relationships with those countries in a much more aggressive fashion.”
Vela said that Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security are due to receive a briefing from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson next Tuesday. Both Vela and El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke are on that committee and will attend the briefing.
One of the first public figures to bring up the issue of a humanitarian crisis caused by unaccompanied minors coming from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras was Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores.
At a brunch with Rio Grande Valley reporters on May 1, held to celebrate World Communications Day, Flores said: “There is a reality that is affecting immigration patterns that is different from the traditional narrative that says people come to this country from Mexico or South American or Central America simply because they are looking for work. It is more complex than that.”
As he has articulated in the past, Flores said the issue of immigration in the United States is closely tied to hemispheric pressures in Central and South America.
“One of the things the Church asks for and I talk about it quite a lot is the Church recognizes that, yes, we want immigration reform in the United States. But, we also recognize that there is a larger hemispheric problem,” Flores told reporters. “The hemispheric problem has to do with poverty, obviously, in Central America and certain parts of Mexico and in South America, but also with the culture of violence that puts a lot of pressure on families to find a safer place for their children. I understand this.”
Speaking on Rio Grande Valley Public Radio on Friday, Ofelia de los Santos, of Catholic Charities RGV, said her organization has had to quadruple the number of beds for unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. However, she said it is still not enough to cope with demand.
Vela concluded his interview with the Guardian by discussing the safety of residents on the northern side of the Rio Grande.
“My perspective on border security is very different from the perspective of many of those who don’t live along the border because I view our side of the border as being very safe. We have had very few murders in the city of Brownsville all year long and my guess is that cities of a similar size around the country would like to be in that situation,” Vela said.
“The problem I have talked about all along is the security issues in Mexico. We know that historically there were problems in Ciudad Juarez and in Tijuana and in those places the federal government responded in a robust fashion. Although may be not 100 percent successful because you never can be, in places like El Paso, their member of Congress, Congressman O’Rourke has told me that people are repatriating from El Paso back to Ciudad Juarez,” Vela said.
“In the meantime, in recent history, we have seen the reverse occur here. As I began to work on the issue and began to talk to folks at the State Department and do what we could to bring this to everybody’s attention, the fact is that it is something that Mexico itself already recognized. I believe that we as a country owe it to ourselves and our neighbors in Mexico to do everything we can to support the Mexican government in its efforts to make the state of Tamaulipas safe. I view it as a problem for America just as it is a problem for Mexico.”