“We are facing a humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Thousands of migrants, mainly children, have fled to our border and to other countries in the region to escape the growing violence in Central America.”
“This humanitarian crisis on our border has nothing to do with DREAMers, children who have lived most of their lives as Americans, even though they were brought here illegally. Yet Republicans would have us believe the two are inseparably linked, which is clearly not true.”
“The world is watching how we respond to this crisis. Congress must act now, and give the Administration the funding it needs to temporarily house and feed these boys and girls, and reinforce the infrastructure to process thousands of asylum and deportation hearings.”
Washington, DC – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the current humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
We are facing a humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Thousands of migrants, mainly children, have fled to our border and to other countries in the region to escape the growing violence in Central America. Most of these children come from three countries – Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala – where crime and lawlessness have overrun the people.
Honduras is the murder capital of the world, with more murders per capita than any other nation on the planet. And El Salvador and Guatemala are right behind them. El Salvador has the world’s 4th highest murder rate. Guatemala has the 5th highest murder rate. In fact, we know that virtually all of the homicides in these countries take place in the exact same cities that these kids are leaving. And migration has spiked in the neighboring countries, not just to the United States, as people try to escape the violence.
Citizens of these three nations are also imperiled by high rates of human trafficking, drug trafficking, sexual assaults, and widespread corruption. It is an understatement to say that these are not safe places to live – let alone survive. Here is just one example as to why these children are fleeing their countries. This account is from a New York Times article about a boy named Cristian:
“Christian Reyes, 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa on the outskirts of the capital tells me he wants to get out of Honduras soon, no matter what.
“A little 11-year-old boy. In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly. She hasn’t. Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head, dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house. ‘I’m going, I’m going this year,’ he said.”
Think about what this boy said. After listening to that, can anyone blame boys and girls and their families for doing everything they can to stay alive? One can imagine how bad things are in their squalid homes if these children are willing to trek across dangerous terrain with little food and water, putting themselves at the mercy of bandits, thieves, coyotes and the cartels. These children are so desperate that when they reach our border, they immediately surrender themselves to the first Border Patrol agents they encounter.
Regardless of what the American people may hear from the Republican critics, this isn’t an issue of bigger walls or more barbed-wire, or more drones, or more helicopters, or even the Texas National Guard. The truth is we’ve taken significant steps to secure our border and those measures are working. There are more resources and technology available for border enforcement, and more personnel on the ground, than at any other time in American history. We’ve nearly doubled the number of Border Patrol agents. We have drones patrolling the air, and we are catching undocumented immigrants and drug traffickers in record numbers. After visiting the Rio Grande Valley, one FOX News correspondent reported: “There is some evidence that border security, as it stands now, is actually working pretty good, pretty well.” That’s from FOX News – not known for giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt.
But if you don’t want to take FOX News’ word for it, this past weekend Senators traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to see the crisis first hand. One Senator asked a senior Border Patrol official “Is it true that border security is better than ever?” The official answered: “It is true.”How does that assessment compare to what we’re hearing from Republicans in Congress? This morning, the Republican Leader disagreed with our border enforcement officials, claiming that the current crisis “further illustrates…how insecure the border is.” So who are we to believe? The actual Border Patrol officials who are on the front lines, or the Republican Leader? I’m inclined to side with the border authorities who are on the scene.
Factually, our border security mechanisms are working, but our Border Patrol agents and infrastructure aren’t equipped to care for tens of thousands of children. What we need now are the resources to temporarily house and feed these children, administer deportation or asylum proceedings, and give border agents the necessary tools to keep our border secured. Our challenge is to treat these children humanely, consistent with American values.
The White House’s Emergency Supplemental Request does just that. If the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services don’t get these resources, they will run out of money in August. But all we hear from Republicans in Congress is blame. It’s all President Obama’s fault. Congressional Republicans are suggesting that the thousands of young migrants have come to America as a result of President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action plan. That is complete and utter nonsense. Cristian, the boy from this New York Times article, doesn’t mention DACA. He doesn’t mention DREAMers. He talks about his father’s murder. He’s fleeing violence.
These kids are fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and heading anywhere they possibly can to escape the violence and they aren’t just fleeing to the United States; they’re headed to Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize. In those countries asylum claims have spiked 712% over the past few years. This humanitarian crisis on our border has nothing to do with DREAMers, children who have lived most of their lives as Americans, even though they were brought here illegally. Yet Republicans would have us believe the two are inseparably linked, which is clearly not true.
The junior Senator from Texas is one of the Republicans trying so hard to link these two groups of children. In fact, Senator Cruz is saying that before he’ll agree to the White House Supplemental request, which will give our Border Patrol the resources it needs to care for these refugee children, President Obama must end the Deferred Action program. Republicans in Congress have resorted to ransoming children to get their way. That’s shameful.
The Assistant Republican Leader, who has authored legislation to prevent any meaningful hearing process for these migrant children, appears supportive of Senator Cruz’s plan. The bill put forward by the senior Senator from Texas implements a process that will send these children back to dangerous places without some minimal concern for their health and well-being. Neither of the plans put forward by the junior and senior Senators from Texas addresses the underlying issues. And what is the real issue? Why are these children arriving at our southern border? As Nobel Laureate and former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias said yesterday his op-ed in The Washington Post: “The root cause is the violence and poverty that make these children’s lives at home intolerable.”
Deporting DREAMers already here, or speeding up the process for sending children who need protection back to their crime-ravaged homes, does not address the root cause. In fact, it will only break up the families who are already here, and ensure that we see these migrant children again in a few months – if they survive – when they attempt a second trek to America. Instead of playing a game of “hot potato” with thousands of innocent children, let’s address the pressing need we have now, which is to treat these kids humanely.
We need to get resources to our Border Patrol agents and others who are caring for these children from Central America. We need judges to hear these kids’ cases and decide whether they need protection or need to be sent back home. The world is watching how we respond to this crisis. Congress must act now, and give the Administration the funding it needs to temporarily house and feed these boys and girls, and reinforce the infrastructure to process thousands of asylum and deportation hearings.