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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Border Crisis Result of Administration’s Policy Failure

July 7, 2014
Weekly Columns

While it initially went unnoticed, there is now a very apparent crisis at our borders. Instigated by the failed policy of the Administration, thousands of unaccompanied illegal minors are swarming our borders at the hands of cartels, crossing into our country, overwhelming our facilities and then rarely being returned to their countries of origin. Unless the president enforces our existing immigration laws, the situation will only worsen. 

Since fiscal year 2011, the number of these individuals entering our country has grown from 6,000 to 66,000 last year. By next year, as many as 150,000 children are expected to illegally enter the country. Since the normal facilities are unable to manage this surge, the Administration is now allowing and ordering the use of our military bases, including Fort Sill in Lawton, for housing and processing these children before they are released to sponsors elsewhere in the country. 

Because of the Administration’s failure to send these minors home quickly or at all, those funding them and those serving as sponsors believe if they get here, they’ll be allowed to stay. Usually between 13 and 17 years old, the majority of these children come from Central America, primarily from the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Once they arrive in the United States and find sponsors in this country,  they effectively stay here permanently. By contrast, there has not been a similar surge in Mexican juveniles because they are returned immediately.   

Not surprisingly, the president insists that Congress is to blame even though it’s his policy that’s encouraging their journey in the first place and that keeps these minors here once they arrive. Neither previously passed legislation nor consideration of immigration reform legislation have anything to do with causing or solving the current crisis.  

The Administration claims that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 has caused the spike in this population. Considering that this legislation was signed into law back in 2008, the dramatic increase of this population would have occurred sooner than 2013 if it was causing the current problem. Passed by voice vote, I was pleased to support the legislation because it provides more authority to the Department of Justice to combat both international and domestic traffic in human beings, including foreigners in our own country. Among other initiatives, it expands pre-existing law enforcement authority and criminal proscriptions, but it doesn’t grant these individuals the right to stay or settle here. Most importantly, it does not exempt the Administration from enforcing existing immigration law and returning individuals to their countries. 

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, announced by the Administration in 2012 through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and without the approval of Congress, these children are brought into the country and housed in our own facilities rather than immediately sent back. Once these children arrive in the United States, the Obama administration helps them locate sponsors, and they effectively stay here permanently, disappearing into society and rarely showing up for their court appearances. Because this policy scatters children across the country and fails to address their immigration status quickly, they are effectively awarded amnesty. 

The president recently said, “The children who are fortunate enough to survive it [the journey] will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent home.” But according to deportation data from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, just around 1,700 returned to their countries of origin last year and most did so voluntarily—not as a result of our legal process. 

To some, it may appear that the president’s policy is humane and compassionate, but it’s not. Not only does it disrupt and destabilize the countries from which these individuals come, it also encourages families to entrust their children to cartels. These criminals are the same people that bring drugs into our country, but now they’re profiting from trafficking of children and likely harming them in the process. Since they’ve noticed the loopholes and delays in our legal process, they are coaching the children on what to say, where and whom to go once they arrive and charging families thousands of dollars for the transport.   

Now we have an even bigger problem on our hands, one that will strain and limit resources designed and intended for our service men and women. Because the normal facilities are unable to manage the surge of these minors, the Administration is now inappropriately using military bases. Supposedly a temporary emergency measure, I am concerned that it could evolve military bases into permanent detention facilities. This includes use of Fort Sill in Lawton, which was designated as such without timely notification to the Oklahoma congressional delegation or state and local officials, leaving almost no time to protest its implementation, to consider alternative solutions or to prepare for the arrival of these juveniles. 

Rather than simply managing the flow of these children into our country, the president must address the reason for the sharp increase in their numbers.  And he need look no farther than his own open border policy to understand how he created the crisis in the first place.