Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says Republicans need to consult with Democrats in their formal examination of the surge of immigrant children attempting to cross the Southwest border .
In a letter sent Thursday afternoon, the California Democrat implored Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, not to shut Democrats out of the process of looking critically at the issues and making informed policy recommendations to the Congress.
Her pleas for cross-party collaboration come two days after Boehner announced he would convene an all-Republican "working group" on what members on both sides of the aisle have characterized as a "national security and humanitarian crisis" — a crisis the GOP increasingly is blaming on President Barack Obama.
"For the sake of our national security, for the sake of vulnerable children, I urge you to proceed with a bipartisan process that produces meaningful solutions," Pelosi wrote to Boehner. "I hope you will treat this matter with the seriousness and consideration it deserves."
Pelosi did not suggest she would form a similar task force to mirror Boehner's, but she said the all-Democratic Border Caucus stands ready to assist.
On Saturday, Pelosi will join one of the co-chairman of the Border Caucus, Texas Rep. Filemon Vela, for a briefing from Customs and Border Protection officials at the South Texas Detention Center, after which she'll participate in a news conference with Vela, Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rubén Hinojosa of Texas and Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada.
Another Border Caucus member has already volunteered his service to the Republicans regarding the issues at stake. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Texas, told CQ Roll Call earlier in the day that he had spoken with Republican Rep. Kay Granger, a fellow Texan in charge of the newly-created working group, along with Texas Republican and task force member Michael McCaul.
"There are friends there I can work with in a bipartisan way," said Cuellar, "and give them my perspective. Since I drink the water, breathe the air down there, I certainly want to give them my perspective."
Cuellar also said he hoped the minority leader would convene a special task force to work in tandem with, or at least parallel to, the speaker's, and he said other Democrats felt the same way.
But there is a political danger for Democrats to formalize such a group at a time when Republicans are seizing on the issue to attack them.
Boehner's statement accompanying the announcement of the GOP working group said the appointed members would be tasked with stepping in to "advise us and keep lawmakers informed" given that "the president has failed to take the necessary steps to address this crisis."
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee convened a hearing titled, "An Administration Made Disaster: The South Texas Border Surge of Unaccompanied Alien Minors." Republicans on the panel continued to hammer Obama administration officials for promoting lax border security policies, and, in the eyes of some Democrats, employed partisan and at times anti-immigration rhetoric.
The other Border Caucus Co-Chairman, Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said he watched the Judiciary Committee proceedings and felt the sentiments expressed there served as a "harbinger" — for the GOP response to the child migrant border crisis but also for the doomed fate of a broad overhaul of the nation's immigration system in the waning days of the 113th Congress.
"It was one of the most horrific discussions," Grijalva said. "It is humanitarian, it is a crisis, and I thought the tone — 'It's Obama's fault, he created this' — and never once was there, from the Republican side, a real discussion of 'what's the process, how long are they gonna be here.'"
Grijalva added that he thought the GOP working group would ultimately be not about how to help the children avoid harm and be reunited with their families, but "all about security."
There is no telling how Boehner will respond to Pelosi's entreaty, especially given how politically charged the issue has become.
"I'm sure the speaker would be happy to discuss that with the Democratic leader at the appropriate time," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Pelosi's full letter to Boehner is below:
June 26, 2014
Dear Speaker Boehner,
The humanitarian crisis unfolding across our nation’s southern border demands Congress come together and find thoughtful, compassionate and bipartisan solutions.
The thousands of unaccompanied children crossing our borders to escape violence deserve to be treated humanely and with dignity – not as an opportunity for partisan point-scoring. As Most Reverend Mark Seitz, Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso noted in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, “…the Catholic Church’s work in assisting unaccompanied migrant children stems from the belief that every person has a unique and sacred identity. This dignity is not bestowed by governments or by laws or based upon their wealth or where they happen to be born. It inheres within the human being.”
As the Homeland Security Committee prepares for field hearings on the border, with the participation of Republican Members of the unaccompanied children task force you formed, I would urge you to take full advantage of the knowledge and experience of Members from the Border Caucus. These Members, all of whom represent border communities, confront the consequences of the humanitarian crisis on a daily basis. Going forward, I hope you will do your best to make any fact-finding process as inclusive and bipartisan as possible.
The Border Caucus has contributed to the process leading up to bipartisan border security legislation that unanimously passed out of the Homeland Security Committee. That legislation is a part of H.R. 15, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that still awaits a vote in the House and that is supported by 200 bipartisan Members of the House.
The surge of unaccompanied children requires thoughtful action and a bipartisan approach. We must ensure that both the Homeland Security Act of 2002, sponsored by Rep. Richard Armey of Texas and signed into law by President George W. Bush, and the bipartisan William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and was also signed into law by President Bush, are fully enforced, so that due process is provided to unaccompanied children and the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children is protected. We must also work to address the root causes of the problem.
For the sake of our national security, for the sake of vulnerable children, I urge you to proceed with a bipartisan process that produces meaningful solutions. I hope you will treat this matter with the seriousness and the consideration it deserves.