N.H.’s federal delegation, candidates weigh in on border crisis
The fence marking the border between Mexico and the United States is photographed on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in La Paloma,Texas. Democratic opposition increased Wednesday to legal changes that would speed removals of young Central American migrants, jeopardizing President Barack Obama's call for $3.7 billion in emergency border spending to deal with the remarkable surge of unaccompanied youths at the South Texas border (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, David Pike)
Pressure is growing on Congress and President Obama to take action to resolve what’s become a humanitarian crisis along the nation’s southern border. Since October, more than 50,000 children from Central America have entered the country, overwhelming the U.S. immigration system. Most of the migrant children are coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and they’re either fleeing gang and other violence or seeking better economic opportunity.
Children from Mexico or Canada caught at the border can be sent back immediately if they can’t prove during a screening that they face immediate danger in their home countries. But child migrants who aren’t from either of those countries are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and must go through hearings in immigration court.
Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is backing a bill introduced yesterday that would change the law so all children are treated the same in an effort to expedite the process of sending children back. The bill also authorizes hiring more people in the backlogged immigration court system, keeps unaccompanied children in federal custody until their court appearances, threatens to withhold aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if they do not try to limit migration of their children, and allows for up to 5,000 refugee admissions from each of those countries, with in-country processing.
Obama also requested $3.7 billion in spending to tackle the problem.
The Monitor asked each of New Hampshire’s congressional representatives and candidates for their thoughts on the crisis.
U.S. Senate race
Republican challenger Scott Brown took the border crisis as an opportunity to hit incumbent U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for her support of policies such as the Dream Act, which would allow children who were brought here by their parents to achieve citizenship, and even blamed the crisis on her directly. The DREAM Act did not pass Congress (Brown voted against it while Shaheen voted for it), but Obama put a policy in place known as “deferred action,” which delays action on deporting children who were brought here illegally.
“I hold (Shaheen and Obama) directly responsible because had they secured the border, had they not provided those incentives, almost a magnet, we wouldn’t be in this situation today,” Brown told the Monitor this week. “She’s in favor of the Dream Act, she’s in favor of amnesty, she’s not in favor of securing the borders, and these are things that we need to do or else we’ll be in more of a crisis.”
Shaheen, for her part, said steps need to be taken to address the humanitarian crisis in the Central American countries that are causing children and families to flee here. Her office said she’ll “carefully consider” Obama’s budget request and any new legislation.
“She believes that unaccompanied children from Central American nations should be processed for repatriation expeditiously, unless their lives are at risk or if they qualify for asylum or other humanitarian protections guaranteed by federal law,” office spokesman Shripal Shah said.
She also continues to push for comprehensive immigration reform, which the Senate passed last year but the House never voted on. That bill would strengthen the border and lay out a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already here. Ayotte also voted for the package and took heat from some Republicans over it, although a group of prominent New Hampshire Republicans praised her decision. Brown didn’t answer directly whether he supported an eventual path to citizenship, but said people who are here illegally should not be given benefits and that he doesn’t support amnesty.
Jim Rubens, one of Brown’s Republican primary opponents, said the United States needs to build a full fence along the border and that he does not believe in amnesty. On the current crisis, he said lawmakers should consider changing the law so that children from Central America can be turned back at the border, such as in the bill Ayotte backs. Rubens also thinks the government should check the citizenship status of all people who take in unaccompanied minors as they wait for their hearings in immigration court.
Bob Smith’s campaign did not respond to a request to comment on the issue.
1st Congressional District
Republicans Dan Innis and Frank Guinta are also placing blame for the border crisis directly on the president and, in part, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, the Democrat they hope to unseat.
“Make no mistake about it, the President’s emergency request today for $3.7 billion is an admission that his policies have failed. The border remains unsecured, and this de facto amnesty program supported by Congresswoman Shea-Porter has led to a flood of immigrants crossing our border illegally,” Guinta said in a statement last week.
In an interview with the Monitor, Innis said the country must start sending back some of the people flooding over the borders. He said immigration reform should be handled one piece at a time, not in a comprehensive bill. Securing the border and making legal immigration easier should be the top priorities, he said.
“People come illegally because they think it’s impossible to do it legally,” he said. “I’d much rather they see some hope to do it legally.”
He does not support a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already here. Beyond fixing the crisis at the border, Innis said the U.S. should work with Central American countries facing humanitarian issues so that people do not feel the need to flee here.
Shea-Porter’s office said she has been holding discussions on the issue and would consider the merit of any proposals to change the law or to authorize money.
“We need to secure our borders and allocate adequate resources to deal with this situation. Ultimately we must find a solution that balances the best interests of our country and of these children. I look forward to reviewing the House Working Group’s report and subsequent legislation that seeks to achieve these goals,” Shea-Porter said in a statement.
2nd Congressional District
Each of the Republicans running to unseat U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said the administration is at fault for letting the situation escalate.
“The current border crisis shows us why it is foolish to even consider comprehensive immigration reform before securing the border – it attracts thousands more across the border in the meantime. I believe the most important step towards solving our immigration problems is revamping our border security to include more boots on the ground, greater use of technological assets such as drones, and fencing in appropriate area,” candidate Gary Lambert said in a statement.
He also added that he does not believe in amnesty in any situation.
Jim Lawrence, another Republican candidate, suggested increasing border security, staffing in immigration courts and embassy staff in the Central American countries where people are fleeing from, which are similar to provisions in the bill Ayotte backs. Lawrence does not believe in amnesty for people already here.
“To me, the first and foremost issue is to secure the border; that’s how we stop the situation from becoming worse,” Lawrence said.
State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, who is also running for the seat, offered the following statement: “I am deeply troubled by the worsening situation along America’s border with Mexico. This disaster has been years in the making, and is another example of why Washington requires a new generation of conservative leadership. I hope to help solve this problem in Congress and bring a common-sense, targeted approach to immigration reform which both secures our borders and improves our immigration system.”
Kuster said the U.S. must send back any children whose safety is not immediately threatened and provide humanitarian relief in their home countries. When asked whether Kuster supports the president’s money request or changing the law to treat all children the same, her office only said she looks forward to reviewing legislation.
“As Americans with a proud tradition of providing humanitarian relief to children in danger around the world, we must work to find a solution to this crisis. We need to send a strong message to these children’s families that these attempts to cross the border are extremely dangerous, and that we will not reward reckless and illegal behavior,” she said in a statement.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)