After concluding a bipartisan, fact-finding tour of the immigrant crisis on the Southwest border , House Judiciary Committee Republicans said Thursday the onus is on President Barack Obama — not Congress — to address the surge of Central American women and children entering the country illegally.
In a conference call with a small group of reporters, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that while there were may be some things the House could do to confront the matter head-on, this was a crisis of Obama's making and he should be the one to fix it. "If the president came forward with targeted changes ... [and] tweaks to the law that would make it easier for [Customs and Border Patrol] and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to do their jobs, the Congress should look with care at that," Goodlatte said. "But when the president said the other day that the House should pass the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform , that, to me, is exactly the wrong thing to do to solve this problem.
"This trip has confirmed that this is a disaster of President Obama's own making," he continued. "He has many tools that he could use right now to quell this activity."
Issa, a Judiciary panel member and chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, agreed.
"[Goodlatte] made it clear he stands ready to make minor changes to the law that would correct imperfections" in the last immigration rewrite passed in 2008, Issa said. "But the 2008 law did not cause this. The president's own statements and policy caused this. Any changes in the law would have to involve the president's reversing."
Goodlatte and Issa, among other House Republicans engaged in the issue, have said that Obama's unilateral actions on immigration policy have caused vast misinformation campaigns in Central America, leading parents to believe that if they take, or send, their children to the U.S.-Mexico border, those children will be able to enter the U.S. and stay.
That assessment has prompted Issa to put pen to paper, drafting a letter co-signed by 32 colleagues that calls on Obama to send a signal to these children and their families by ending the 2012 executive action that provided stays of deportation to undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents — the so-called "Dreamers."
Goodlatte and Issa traveled through the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday and Thursday with Texas Republican Blake Farenthold, Texas Democrat Shelia Jackson Lee, and Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Calif., and Joe Garcia, Fla. Asked whether he took away from the trip any indication that House Republicans and Democrats could work together to address the crisis back on Capitol Hill, Goodlatte demurred.
"There are some aspects we can work with on a bipartisan basis, but there are also those who view this issue differently than we do," Goodlatte said of Democrats, who tend to view the problem through the prism of the need for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, something that no longer seems viable in the 113th Congress.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call on Wednesday, Farenthold suggested that the Judiciary Committee's findings, paired with the outcome of Thursday's House Homeland Security Committee field hearing in McAllen, could determine what action Congress might take back in Washington, D.C., next week.
Farenthold added that Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, asked McCaul to hold the hearing and also convened a special working group to advise colleagues on the crisis, both of which suggested an interest in continued engagement on the part of GOP lawmakers.
The Appropriations Committee might respond to the administration's request for emergency funding to bolster border resources, but based on Goodlatte's statements, it now appears more likely than not that the House GOP will largely focus its energy, leading up to the midterm elections, calling out the Obama administration, rather than moving legislation, at least through the Judiciary Committee.
During their tour of "a number of facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border" that included those in McAllen, Brownsville, Harlingen and Port Isabel, Goodlattee said the delegation found that the "vast majority of minors who are unaccompanied meet up with their parents who are in the U.S. illegally, and there are a great many who come here with their parents."
"There are almost as many people showing up in family units, almost always with children, and ... they've been informed in their home country through advertising, through drug smugglers, through human traffickers, that if they come to the U.S., either unaccompanied as children or with their children, they are going to be admitted into the United States and be allowed to stay," Goodlatte continued.
Further, Goodlatte said, children are being instructed not to resist apprehension by agents at the border, believing that if they endure detention at a holding facility they will then be released into the custody of a family member in the United States waiting for them.
"Border patrol agents that we spoke with were pretty consistent in saying the best way to stop this crisis is through deterrence," Goodlattee said. "They were very clear that deterrence must be the focus, and there must be an end to the so-called 'catch and release' policy, because that's what's driving here ... There's little if any consequence right now for illegal immigration and that needs to change."
In a press release sent to reporters following the call, the argument is made that "word has spread to the Americas and beyond that women and children are not priorities for removal, as outlined in the Obama Administration's immigration enforcement 'priorities.'"
The press release also highlights the finding that "strict environmental rules prevent Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector from accessing federal lands along the border" and that officials "cited restrictions on federal lands as a burden to doing their job of securing the border."
Goodlatte said that members on the trip were told that smugglers were charging anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 to smuggle children into the United States, and that while they weren't permitted to speak to children in the detention center, he and Issa did get to interact with some children and adults in the midst of being apprehended near the Rio Grande River.
"Their stories," he said, "are basically, 'I wanted to come to the United States, I wanted to be reunited with a family member in the United States and I've been told that if I come, they'll let me in."
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