BROWNSVILLE — Border Democrats are pushing back against GOP colleagues in the U.S. House who have said current White House policies are responsible for the swell of Central American migrants breaching the Texas border.
The Democratic lawmakers argue that a bipartisan border security bill by Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has languished for months due to political infighting and partisan gridlock in the GOP-controlled U.S. House. McCaul and other Republicans, however, contend that the immigration reform debate stalled the legislation, and that the influx of immigrants won't stop until the federal government begins sending illegal crossers home.
“The Homeland Security Committee passed the McCaul-Thompson legislation 14 months ago, but the majority leader has failed to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, referring to McCaul's HR 1417.
McCaul is chairman of the committee, which unanimously approved the legislation in May 2013. U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso; and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, are also on the committee, along with Vela.
If passed, the bill would establish a goal of a 90 percent apprehension rate at the border. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to create metrics to measure progress and would increase the technology the government uses on the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Monday, McCaul told CNN that his legislation stalled because of the debate on immigration reform. He said he would like to see it included now in President Obama’s request for supplemental border security funding. On Monday, the White House announced it would seek $3.7 billion for more U.S. Border Patrol agents, detention centers and surveillance on Texas’ southern border.
McCaul said that he was concerned that the president’s request was “a short-term Band-Aid.” He added, though, that lawmakers should “come together” to resolve the current crisis on the border.
“I saw three young girls, younger than my daughters, all in tears,” he said of a recent visit to a Homeland Security intake facility in the Rio Grande Valley. “I saw babies down there. This is a very tragic crisis.”
But McCaul said the influx of undocumented immigrants would not slow until the administration begins sending the people back to their home countries.
U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, joined Vela in chastising Republicans for the failure to move HR 1417. He also defended Obama's decision not to visit the border during his current visit to Texas.
Republicans have criticized Obama for traveling to Texas this week for fundraisers but not going to see the events unfolding in the Rio Grande Valley.
“The president's presence along the border would create an unneeded distraction by diverting law enforcement and other resources at a critical time," Gallego said. "We don't need photo ops; we need action. The ball is in Congress' court to do this right."