“We now have an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all.”
Five years ago — almost to the day — former President Barack Obama said these words in a televised address from the White House Rose Garden. His speech came on the heels of months of record-breaking numbers of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border.
In June of 2014 — the height of the surge that year — Border Patrol encountered more than 10,600 unaccompanied children. Here we are, five years later, and the problem not only remains, it has grown. Last month, we surpassed the record set in 2014, when more than 11,500 unaccompanied children crossed our southern border.
Of the more than 144,000 people who illegally entered our country in May, nearly 50,000 were apprehended in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector, making it the most impacted sector along the entire border.
As folks in the Valley and other parts of Texas can attest, the growing number of people is taxing our resources, and outpacing our ability to respond. The toll this has taken on law enforcement, cities, counties and nongovernmental organizations working to provide relief aid cannot be overstated.
I want to thank each person — law enforcement, elected officials, businesses, and average citizens — who have generously supported those in need during this ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Congress has passed an emergency funding bill to help federal departments and agencies continue their hard work and provide desperately needed resources for care. Additionally, it includes a provision I championed to make funding available to reimburse communities along the border and elsewhere who have used local taxpayer dollars to carry out the work of the federal government. It’s an important measure to repay those communities but does not solve the underlying and long-term problem. Without a concerted effort today, we will find ourselves staring the same problem in the face tomorrow — and who knows how much bigger it will be then.
Folks in Texas know that any action to address this humanitarian crisis must prioritize both physical and economic security, and in order for it to become law, it must also be bipartisan.
That’s why I introduced the HUMANE Act — a bipartisan bill to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border and protect legitimate trade and travel. It combines my experience working with law enforcement, local officials, the business community and average citizens who live and work in border communities every day, to make targeted reforms that will actually work.
The HUMANE Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to keep families together throughout court proceedings and would provide additional standards of care for families in custody. In addition to suitable living accommodations, each facility would be required to provide timely access to medical assistance, recreational activities, educational services and legal counsel.
The bill would also take major steps to streamline the processing of migrants by requiring DHS to establish Regional Processing Centers in high-traffic areas. These centers would process and house family units and would have personnel from across the government on hand to assist, including medical personnel and asylum officers.
In addition, the HUMANE Act would improve due process for unaccompanied children and family units by prioritizing their claims for relief in immigration courts to reduce the amount of time they spend waiting for answers.
In order to close a major loophole that encourages many migrants to come to the United States, this legislation would clarify that the Flores Settlement Agreement, which was written to protect unaccompanied children, only applies to those unaccompanied children and not family units. To better protect these children, it would also provide added protections to ensure they are never released to the custody of dangerous individuals.
The bill would also mandate upgrades, modernization and additional personnel at our ports to prevent the lengthy delays we’ve experienced in recent months. Legitimate trade and travel are vital to local communities and our state’s economy and must be protected.
The HUMANE Act is a bipartisan way to address the situation at our southern border while preserving our important trade relationship with Mexico. Congress should take up this bill so we can begin to bring relief to border communities impacted by this humanitarian crisis.
There’s too much at stake to let another five years go by without action.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees. This article originally appeared in the McAllen Monitor.