Speaker John A. Boehner is asking President Barack Obama to take steps to address the growing number of unaccompanied immigrant children seeking illegal passage over the southwest border.
"The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach U.S. soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely," the Ohio Republican charged in a letter sent to Obama Friday morning. "There are several steps that we call on you and your administration to take immediately to enforce our laws, stem the tide of migrants, protect the victims, and ensure that those individuals are dealt with in a humane manner that is consistent with American ideals of compassion and family unity."
Among Boehner's suggestions are sending in the National Guard to provide backup for border agents, plus calling on the State and Homeland Security Departments to streamline the process for returning children back to their families and home countries.
In general, the crisis at the border is a charged one for stakeholders on all sides of the immigration debate. Proponents of overhauling the nation's immigration system and allowing the United States to be a welcoming place for all people are deeply disturbed by the increasing volume of children trying to get into the country by themselves, where they risk their lives during passage and potentially face exploitation and abuse once they've reached the other side.
Opponents of moving immigration legislation that would expand opportunities to gain legal status and citizenship in the United States worry for the safety of these children, but they are also quick to politicize the issue by blaming the Obama administration's lax policies for putting people in harm's way.
Boehner's letter to Obama comes on the heels of one also sent Friday morning to administration officials by a handful of ranking members of House Appropriations Subcommittees. The House Judiciary Committee is also scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue next week.
Read Boehner's letter below:
Dear Mr. President: Our country is facing a national security and humanitarian crisis along our southern border. Thousands of children and families are pouring across our borders, overwhelming our resources and endangering those most vulnerable to exploitation. Children are being handed over to unscrupulous cartels and smugglers and are subjected to untold horrors and violence. The policies of your administration have directly resulted in the belief by these immigrants that once they reach U.S. soil, they will be able to stay here indefinitely. There are several steps that we call on you and your administration to take immediately to enforce our laws, stem the tide of migrants, protect the victims, and ensure that these individuals are dealt with in a humane manner that is consistent with American ideals of compassion and family unity. The safety of these migrant children is a matter of paramount importance. It is our duty and obligation to enforce the laws of our country while protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring they are healthy and well protected. In that vein, your administration should immediately deploy the National Guard to our southern border. The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond to such humanitarian crises. They are able to help deal with both the needs of these children and families as well as relieve the border patrol to focus on their primary duty of securing our border. The State Department must immediately begin discussions with the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to ensure that apprehended migrants can be promptly and efficiently returned to their home countries. Long processing times for returns are directly resulting in overcrowded conditions in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS) resources. Additionally, the State Department should work with these countries to design and execute an aggressive communications effort to fully articulate the dangers and struggles children and families will face if they attempt to migrate to the U.S. Finally, the State Department should also enter into conversations with the Mexican government about its ability to secure its southern border. The lax enforcement at Mexico’s borders gives a free pass to immigrants heading north. Once these immigrants have reached the U.S. and are apprehended, they must be processed by DHS and then the family units must be prepared for return to their home country. Your administration should immediately deploy additional personnel, including Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, immigration judges and support staff to assist in the processing and removal of these aliens. DHS must find a way to ensure that apprehended adults and their family members do in fact appear for their deportation hearings. We believe that all families should be detained in clean, safe facilities that are in compliance with existing federal statute and case law. Until adequate housing is made available, Alternatives to Detention (ATD) should be deployed to ensure compliance with court appearances and deportation hearings. While we understand that many of these individuals are coming to this country to escape violence and hardship in their home country, the current climate along the border and our enforcement policies are only encouraging them to risk their lives and those of their children. It is time that we confront the crisis along the border head-on through immediate and aggressive action. We can no longer tolerate the conditions threatening these children, nor continue to accept the risks of a porous southern border. We ask that you take the above actions immediately to address this problem and work with the Congress to develop a long term strategy to secure our borders and ensure the integrity of our immigration laws. Sincerely, John A. Boehner