A leading advocate of comprehensive immigration reform accused Republicans of disparaging the unaccompanied children crossing America’s Southwest border and called on the federal government to prioritize the interests of immigrant children in addressing with the current crisis.
During an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) stressed that immigrants are fleeing “violence and torture, murder and rape” and will continue to stream into America “as long as those conditions exist and we don’t fix our broken immigration system.” Approximately 52,000 minors without their parents have been captured at the Southwest border since October of 2013.
“There is American exceptionalism, I believe in it,” Gutierrez said. “I say we are the strongest, wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world, and children are coming to our borders, we should protect them.”
The congressman urged the government to follow a 2008 anti-human trafficking law that extends protections to children entering the country alone who are not from Mexico or Canada “by prohibiting them from being quickly sent back to their country of origin.” Under the measure, children are afforded an immigration hearing and are placed “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.” Sometimes, they are reunited with family members.
The Obama administration, along with Republicans, have called on Congress to amend the law in order to allow the federal government to more quickly process the surge of unaccompanied minors. Some in the GOP, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Gov. Rick Perry (R), are also asking Obama to send the National Guard to patrol the border.
But Gutierrez pushed back against claims that insecurity at the border or Obama’s failure to enforce existing laws is the cause of the current crisis, pointing out that the federal government spent more on immigration enforcement — $18 billion — than on every other federal law enforcement agency combined during the 2012 fiscal year. Obama, he added, has already deported more than 2 million people and apprehensions of unaccompanied children has increased by 92 percent from last year.
“You can keep throwing money and talk about ‘enforcement, enforcement, enforcement,’ but you got to put money also into your judicial system and you got to put money in a comprehensive program that deals with the issue,” he said. “The border is secure, the fact is, the children are handling themselves over to the border patrol agents.”
Gutierrez also shot back at Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who on Friday asked Perry to “use whatever means” necessary to “stop the invasion” of unaccompanied minors, pointing out that the congressman has never “seen an immigrant that he hadn’t thought was bringing disease to this country.” Gutierrez reminded host Bob Schieffer that Gohmert, along with anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King (R-IA), also voted in favor of the 2008 law requiring humane treatment of unaccompanied children.