U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Wednesday said U.S. aid that has helped return Mexican cities like Ciudad Juárez to normalcy after years of violence should also be used to help Mexico secure its border with Central America and stem the growing tide of undocumented immigrants arriving in Texas.
In recent weeks, the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America breaching the Texas-Mexico border. About 47,000 have been apprehended along the entire southwest border so far this fiscal year, Cornyn said, and the the final count could be more than 60,000 by the end of the fiscal year in September.
“That 500-mile border between Guatemala and Mexico is a sieve,” Cornyn said during a conference call with reporters. “Once these unaccompanied minors or other adults get in to the hands of the gangs that smuggle them through areas controlled by the Zetas or other cartels, this is not a benign situation. This is a dangerous and deadly … journey.”
The U.S. aid package known as the Mérida Initiative, which was passed in 2008 under the administration of President George W. Bush, earmarked more than $1.4 billion for training and equipment for the governments of Mexico and Central America, though most of that has gone to Mexico. Cornyn said that U.S. officials are already helping Mexico undertake the task of securing its border, but it is obvious that authorities there are overwhelmed.
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“I am sure there is a lot that we can do and that we need to do, but perhaps because the majority of these unaccompanied minors and other migrants come from Central America, one thing we could do is help Mexico secure its own borders,” he said.
Cornyn said he was encouraged that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told senators during a committee hearing on Wednesday that the agency had “all hands on deck” to deal with the humanitarian crisis. But Cornyn also blamed the Obama administration’s policies for the surge. The perception south of the border, he said, is that “the administration simply will not enforce current immigration laws.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said during the committee hearing that the administration’s deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, was to blame for the spike. The program was initiated two years ago, and it allows qualified applicants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to obtain a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation proceedings.
“You can see sometime after [DACA], the numbers spike dramatically,” Cruz told Johnson during the committee hearing. “Is it really your testimony that granting amnesty to some 800,000 people who came here illegally as children had no effect in causing a dramatic increase of children being handed over to international drug cartels to be smuggled in here illegally?” (The administration’s count of DACA recipients is approximately 560,000.)
Johnson said that unaccompanied minors arriving today would not qualify for DACA and that the violence in Central America was the main motivator for the mass exodus. Deferred action applies only to people who came to the United States prior to June 2007, he added.
Cruz called the argument a red herring, and said that while violence might explain the increase in Central American immigration overall, it does not explain the unaccompanied minors.
According to an April 2014 report by the United Nations, Honduras has the world's highest rate of homicide, while the Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador and Nicaragua ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively.