In Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, senators questioned DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on the dramatic increase in the flow of illegal immigrants from Central America across the Mexican border into Texas. Here are excerpts from that discussion, in which Johnson and the Democrats focused primarily on the influx of children. There was little effort to clarify that the illegal influx comprises more adults than children (and that many of the children are teenagers). There were sharp differences on what was causing the spike in illegal order crossings. Johnson and the Democrats emphasized the yearning of children to join parents who have migrated illegally to the United States and the poverty and violence of the sending countries. Republicans pointed to the Obama administration, claiming that the administration has allowed word to go out that those who make it to the United States are likely to be released by the Border Patrol.
Here are excerpts from the hearing:
Secretary Johnson: "I believe that the situation is motivated primarily by the conditions in the countries that they are leaving: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Violence, poverty, I believe that is principally what is motivating the situation. I suspect also that the parents are aware that under our current law, once they're in the hands of CBP we are required to give them to HHS and HHS is required to do what is in the best interests of the child."
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): "The humanitarian disaster is caused by a legal disaster ... [The Obama administration] has failed to send a clear message throughout the world that you can only come to the United States lawfully. You cannot come unlawfully. In fact you've sent a message that conveys just the opposite. ... We're seeing this flood of young people ..."
Sessions then read from an internal memo drafted by Ronald Vitiello, Deputy Chief of the Border Patrol, and released last week by the Center for Immigration Studies, which had obtained it from a government employee. In the passage read at Wednesday's hearing, Vitiello warned:
If the U.S government fails to deliver adequate consequences to deter aliens from attempting to illegally enter the United States., the result will be an even greater increase in the rate of recidivism and first-time illicit entries. Releasing Other-Than-Mexican family units, [people who present} credible fear claims, and low-threat aliens on their own recognizance, along with facilitating family reunification of unaccompanied alien children in lieu of repatriation to their country of citizenship, serve as incentives for additional individuals to follow the same path. ... To stem the flow, adequate consequences must be delivered for illegal entry into the United States and for facilitating human smuggling.
Secretary Johnson: "To deal with the situation in South Texas, we have had to surge resources that are normally devoted to other tasks. We are now calling upon the entire federal government to address that situation so that my Border Patrol agents can go back to patrolling the border."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): "I would just suggest to you that as you deliberate these matters and as you consult with Congress and the president, that this is one of the biggest obstacles to immigration reform. Because if the perception is, both domestically and in other countries, that the federal government is not committed to enforcing our own laws, then this flood will continue and the divide and the distrust will grow even more."
Secretary Johnson: "I do believe that if comprehensive immigration reform is passed, if the uncertainty that may be existing in people's minds about our law gets resolved, it will be clear to people that the earned path to citizenship that's being contemplated in the Senate bill only applies to people who came here before year-end 2011."
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.): "We know some of the causes, as you explained. The economic situation in these countries, the drug activity, cartels, [lack of] safety, gangs certainly leads to it. But to reject out of hand, which you seem to be doing, that the perception of lax enforcement is not (sic) a motivator in this regard, I think is naïve at best and very destructive at worst. ... Can you just allow that there might be a perception that lax enforcement might be some motivator for some people to come here?"
Secretary Johnson: "I do believe, senator, that what's principally motivating this migration are, as you noted, the conditions in the Central American countries. I also believe that people are aware that when their kids come into this country unaccompanied, we are required by law to give them to HHS and HHS is required by law to act in the best interests of the child, which very often means reuniting them with the parent. I think they know that."
Sen. Flake: "When you look at the interviews, read the interviews that are being conducted, you see the statements of people — they're waving down helicopters when they see a federal helicopter. Waving them down! Rushing to Border Patrol agents and saying,'Take me!' There is a perception of lax enforcement that will allow them to get a foothold here."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): (on the work of researchers at the University of Houston): "They found that these kids, as they were coming into the United States were cold, hungry, helpless. Half of them unaccompanied. Hunted like animals by corrupt police bandits and gang members. ... Most had been robbed, beaten, raped — usually several times — some killed, some maimed by these railroad trains. That to me cannot be overlooked in this conversation. ... Let us stop and reflect as fathers and grandfathers about these babies who are desperate to find their mothers in America. If this is not a searing indictment of our broken immigration system and the need for change, I can't think of anything that is."