What's next for Washington on the border crisis

Photo by Jack Dean

The whole country has been watching as a humanitarian crisis unfolds on our southern border while Washington does nothing. 

In fact, earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would redirect money during the middle of hurricane season from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border. This is not the leadership our constituents need.

It has been more than three months since the Defense Department opened emergency shelters across the country to deal with a surge of unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, many of them right here in South Texas. In May, at the request of then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, the Defense Department approved the use of its facilities to temporarily house up to 1,000 of these children for up to 120 days.

Imagine if your child were being held for up to four months, over 1,000 miles from home, in a crowded cell with no family or friends to provide the love and care all children need. As a family man and father of two, this thought causes me great concern and provokes me to press for urgent action.  

This daily wave of immigrants — made up of children and families from Mexico and Central America who continue to illegally and very dangerously cross our southern border — has overwhelmed the resources of the Border Patrol under the Department of Homeland Security and has created a humanitarian crisis. Congress has yet to provide additional funding to DHS or to make a policy change to address the crisis.

I have consistently said we need to send a strong signal that human smuggling and trafficking to the United States will not be tolerated.

The fact that we are detaining more individuals and sending them back to their home countries in large quantities has been a huge factor lately in deterring these crimes. However, the recent decrease in apprehensions at the border can also be attributed to increased law enforcement activity to combat human smuggling and trafficking in Mexico and Central America; aggressive messaging by the United States, Mexico and Central America to deter illegal immigration; and seasonal factors such as the intense summer heat.

I supported the passage of the emergency supplemental funding for that very reason. I would have preferred to have included the language from the bipartisan legislation that I introduced with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, but the emergency bill was the only legislation moving forward that provided the funds to keep DHS from running out of money before the end of the fiscal year. It is also vital for us to include in any final deal funding for Mexico and Central America to combat trafficking organizations in their countries.

Last week, I sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to clarify his position on a change in the 2008 human trafficking law. The president’s vacillation on the change and his shifts on how to address the crisis have had a real impact on the success of any solution.

In my letter, I urged the president to meet with me and other members of Congress to discuss what policy changes and funding requirements are needed and to take the necessary steps toward solving the crisis. It’s time for us to put partisan politics aside, lead on this issue and find solutions.

Let us be reminded that there is a human cost to inaction on the border — more children are in danger, more young girls assaulted, more families broken apart and more kids in detention conditions. Doing nothing is not an option in the face of these conditions.

It is therefore vital to continue our efforts to address this crisis, including pushing for policy changes and increasing funding for DHS. It’s simple: A fast, fair process that brings children home to their families sooner rather than later is fundamental.  

Henry Cuellar

U.S. representative, D-Laredo