It’s time for solutions, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar emphasized while discussing their proposed HUMANE Act with local leaders in the Rio Grande Valley at Mission City Hall last Friday.
“We need to act,” Cornyn said. “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re more than happy to work with you to try to improve this, but you can’t just say no. Washington is so polarizing these days that many people think they can just say no and feel satisfied they have done their jobs.”
The HUMANE (Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency) Act would amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. If passed, it would treat all migrant children the same no matter their native country. Currently, children from Mexico are given an immigration hearing and can be deported within seven days. Meanwhile, Central American children are given a notice to appear in immigration court and often don’t have a hearing for three to five years, Cuellar said.
If approved, the legislation would place Central American children in front of an immigration judge within seven days of being processed. It also authorizes 40 additional immigration judges to help handle the influx of children, and it allows Border Patrol agents to ask Central American children older than 15 if they want to voluntarily deport themselves without a hearing.
“We presented something,” Cuellar said. “If somebody has a better idea, we want to hear it.”
The proposed legislation has been met with much criticism and protest from immigrant activists who say it deprives children of due process and doesn’t give attorneys enough time to build a case to convince a judge to give the children asylum.
John-Michael Torres, a Mission resident and representative of LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero) said when child immigrants arrive in the United States, it may take them days to trust law enforcement and open up to someone about what they’ve endured.
And even when they do, Torres said all who ask for asylum are not treated fairly. A young mother told Border Patrol if they sent her back to Mexico her ex-husband would kill her, Torres said. She was not given a hearing in front of a judge, he said, and within a week her body was found in a burnt car in Mexico, he said.
“The provisions in this bill are dangerous for the children,” Torres said.
But Cuellar emphasized the proposal would still give children their time before a judge.
“When people say that there are changes to the due processes, we don’t,” Cuellar said. “Actually, having a hearing faster, I think as an attorney, is better than having to wait three to five years.”
Getting the bill passed will be difficult, Cuellar said. There are those that want the policy change without additional funding, and those on the other side who want to authorize additional federal funding to aid the problem without changing the policy.
Cornyn and Cuellar said the answer is somewhere between the two extremes. The president asked for $3.7 billion. Cuellar said between three pots of money the legislature is looking at, they may come close.
Only about $1.5 billion will come from an emergency bill, but Cuellar said there will be additional funding in the 2015 appropriations as well as money from reprogramming.
As for activists protesting deportation, Cuellar said he’s talked to the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala, and they want their children back, but they need help from the U.S. The Hispanic Caucus and asked President Obama to consider all the children refugees, but Cuellar said Obama’s response was, “I can’t go there.”
“He actually said we have to send a signal to Central America that you can’t keep sending your kids,” Cuellar said.
And to those who want to deport the children immediately, Cuellar said that isn’t easy either.
“You can’t just land at their airports,” Cuellar said. “You have to get permission. You have to get travel documents for each child.
Cuellar and Cornyn said they were willing to hear suggestions to improve the proposal. Torres said LUPE would meet with attorneys and forward any recommendations they have.
The worst case scenario, Cornyn said, if the bill isn’t passed is the drug cartels will continue to take advantage of the children passing through Mexico.
Cuellar said little girls are given birth control with their packages when they leave for the trip in case they’re sexually abused along the way.
“We’re hopeful that the House will take this legislation, add that to additional money, which we need to surge resources here, and that will go a long way to try and address the current crisis,” Cornyn said. “We still have a lot of work to do.
“We still need to fix our broken immigration system. Henry and I will work together to do that next year, but we need to address our current crisis.”