MISSION, June 12 - Texas’ two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, are blaming President Obama for the recent spike in apprehensions of unaccompanied minors crossing the southwest border.
They say Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy has enticed tens of thousands of children, many from Central America, to come to the United States in the hopes of being able to legally live here.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson disputes this. He says the reason people are fleeing countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is violence in their homeland. The Guardian recently cited a United Nations report published in April that showed there are 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people in Honduras. “This is almost double the number in Venezuela, the next highest country, and almost three times more than Colombia. That means, on average, 20 people are murdered every day in Honduras, a country of only eight million inhabitants,” the Guardian reported.
DACA directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to practice prosecutorial discretion towards some individuals who immigrated illegally to the United States as children.
Johnson and Cruz clashed at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
“In 2011, roughly 7,000 unaccompanied minors were apprehended,” Cruz said, citing Department of Homeland Security statistics. “In 2012 that number rose to 14,000. In 2013, it rose to 24,000 and in 2014, your agency is estimating that it is going to be as high as 90,000. In 2015, the Administration is estimating it will rise all the way to 145,000.”
Cruz addressed his question to Johnson. “You testified to this committee that the increase is as a result of violence in Central America and there is surely violence in Central America. But if you look at the statistics…. midway through 2012 the Administration unilaterally granted amnesty to some 800,000 people who had been minors – the so-called DACA proceeding. You see shortly after that the numbers spike dramatically. Is it really your testimony that granting amnesty to some 800,000 people who came illegally as children had no effect in causing a dramatic increase in children being handed over to international cartels to be smuggled in here illegally?”
This was Johnson’s response: “First, DACA is not amnesty it is deferred action. Second, DACA applies only to people who came into this country as children prior to June, 2007, that was seven years ago. DACA does not apply to anybody who comes into this country today, tomorrow or yesterday. The earned pathway to citizenship contemplated in the Senate bill does not apply to anybody who comes into this country today, tomorrow or yesterday. It applies to people who came into this country by year end 2011. I believe, Senator, that the primary motivator for this spike in migration, and I am not a sociologist, I am not an expert, is the situations that Senator Durbin and others have laid out in these countries.”
Johnson was referring to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.
Cruz said the violence issue was a “red herring.” He said it would explain an overall increase in Central Americans coming to the U.S. but not children specifically.
Cruz then expressed concern that Obama Administration could offer amnesty to some undocumented immigrants before the next election, a move that would likely be received positively by the Hispanic community.
“It has been widely reported that President Obama, that the Administration, is contemplating yet another amnesty, like DACA, like two years ago, just a couple of months before the upcoming election,” Cruz said. “I will say it to you (Johnson) and I will urge you to pass on to the President that I think that would be a grave mistake that it would be contrary to rule of law and I think granting yet another amnesty would result in those numbers going even higher, would result in even more little girls and little boys being subjected to violence and horrific, dangerous, conditions, and it would be a serious mistake for us to go down that road.”
Sen. Cornyn made his views known on what has caused the spike in apprehensions of undocumented minors in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
“In recent weeks it has become impossible to deny the fact that we have a full-blown humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexican border. Sadly, this crisis is directly the result of President Obama’s own policies. It involves tens of thousands of young children, some reportedly as young as three years old, risking their lives. Indeed, young children are traveling through extremely dangerous territory run by brutal drug cartels that prey on the weak in the form of human trafficking, rape and even murder. This year alone, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minor children have been detained while crossing illegally into the United States and a large percentage have been found in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas,” Cornyn said.
“The crisis we're facing now represents a tragic and painful example of the law of unintended consequences. Two years ago when the President stood in the Rose Garden and announced a unilateral administrative change in U.S. immigration policy, he probably thought he was doing a good thing. But between that policy change and his broader failure to uphold our immigration laws, indeed, his statement that he essentially will not enforce broad swaths of those laws, the President has created an extremely dangerous incentive for children and their parents to cross into the United States, under these sorts of treacherous and horrific circumstances.”
Cornyn said the unaccompanied minors are being “preyed on” by drug cartels and human traffickers, and that they’re at high risk of being kidnapped, raped, or even killed while traveling on a long dangerous journey to the United States. “Sadly, when they arrive here, we still have no way of guaranteeing their safety because of lack of an adequate plan to deal with this humanitarian crisis. Mr. President, President Obama effectively created this problem and now he has an opportunity to work with us to fix it,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn added that “while there is widespread violence and poverty in Central America, sadly, that is not something that is entirely new and it is not the cause of our current crisis.” He offered his explanation for the spike in apprehensions for unaccompanied minors. “We do know that the massive surge in unaccompanied minors is directly attributable to actions taken or not taken by the Administration.”
Cornyn said he “implored” President Obama to do five things immediately:
1) Declare DACA program does not apply to children currently arriving at the border
2) Discourage people in Central America from sending their children on such a dangerous route
3) Enforce all immigration laws and engage with Congress
4) Provide Texas and other U.S. border states the resources necessary to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis
5) Immediately start working with the Mexican government to improve security at Mexico’s southern border.