HARRISONBURG — Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, spent time leading up to Independence Day in the trenches of an immigration crisis building up on the nation’s border.
Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led a bipartisan group of six legislators last week for a two-day stay in the Rio Grande Valley at the U.S.-Mexico border in southern Texas.
The delegation sought information on a recent surge of Central Americans, particularly children, attempting to come into the country illegally.
The group toured federal facilities and rode with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, who, according to the Department of Homeland Security, will see an estimated 142,000 minors try to illegally migrate next year.
The number was 6,500 four years ago.
“You get a real sense of how overwhelmed the Border Patrol is by this,” Goodlatte said in an interview.
Goodlatte has pointed his finger at President Barack Obama for the crisis, accusing the president of not enforcing immigration laws and “rubber-stamping” applications of people seeking political asylum.
That sends the message to other countries that undocumented immigrants can practically “disappear” in the U.S., Goodlatte said.
Children’s lives are at stake just as much as the immigration system, he said, as they are putting themselves at risk in trying to cross the border.
“[S]ome of them are killed. Some of them are maimed. Some of them are driven into the sex-trafficking business,” Goodlatte said.
On Monday, the White House said that most unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief that would prevent them from being sent back to their home countries, according to The Associated Press.
The administration’s warning came as the White House finished a request to Congress detailing the additional resources Obama wants to handle the influx, including hiring more immigration judges and opening more detention facilities.
According to the AP, White House officials said they planned to send the $2 billion request to lawmakers today.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that while the administration will allow the immigration review process to take place, officials don’t expect many of the children arriving at the border to be able to stay in the U.S.
“It’s unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief,” Earnest said in the AP story. “It means they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned.”
Goodlatte had three major takeaways from his trip: Most of the minors who are unaccompanied connect with their parents who are already in the U.S. illegally; Border Patrol agents say deterrence is the best solution; and “stringent” federal environmental rules restrict those agents from accessing federal lands within 100 miles of the border.
More important than a wall along the border, he said, is for agents to have a road to travel.
Much of the land against the border is impassable by vehicle, Goodlatte said.
In tours of federal facilities, he said officials indicated the phone is “ringing off the hook” with parents looking for their children, knowing the youth were attempting to reach the U.S.
On a ride along with the Border Patrol, for example, Goodlatte witnessed the apprehension of a 15-year-old boy from Honduras who said he came to reunite with his mother in Los Angeles.
Most children attempting to cross the border have a number written on their underwear that they call to connect with their parents, likely once they are in a U.S. detention center, Goodlatte said.
Federal law signed by former President George W. Bush says children must be turned over within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services to care for and find them safe housing while they’re processed.
The law only applies to unaccompanied minors from countries noncontiguous with the U.S., not those from Canada or Mexico.
Obama is trying to change the law to allow Border Patrol to begin deportation proceedings on its own without going through HHS.
“It’s a pretty bad situation,” Goodlatte said. “[Agents] want to be able to deport them immediately.”
Goodlatte said the president needs to be “very aggressive” about expedited removals and must also insist that Central American and Mexican authorities help stop children from getting to the border.
Goodlatte met with high-ranking Mexican officials earlier this year, and he said they expressed a desire for the first time to secure their southern border.
“The U.S. should help that,” he said.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org