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Crisis at the southern border

Q & A

July 17, 2019
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley - R-Iowa , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

Q: How serious is the crisis at the southern border?

A: Illegal border crossings are at the highest level in recent history. This fiscal year, immigration officials are on track to apprehend more than one million migrants crossing illegally into the country - more than double the volume of previous years.

In May, more than 144,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border. For more than a year, President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security have sounded the alarm about an unprecedented influx of migrants illegally crossing into the United States, primarily from Central America.

Article Photos

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

After desperate calls for more federal resources to help stem the tide of people breaking our immigration laws and putting themselves and unaccompanied children into harm's way, the House of Representatives finally agreed with the Trump administration and the U.S. Senate.

After getting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on board, Congress in June passed a $4.6 billion emergency spending package into law with the support of an overwhelming vote in the U.S. Senate, including mine.

The surge in border crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border has overwhelmed federal agencies tasked ing asylum seekers and providing adequate care to those in federal custody.

Make no mistake. The situation along the southern border has been brewing for decades.

Tragically, the president's critics treated the current crisis as a tempest in a tea kettle. Their decision to score political points instead of working together to solve problems has allowed the situation to boil over into a humanitarian crisis. How did we get here?

The 1997 Flores agreement shaped the existing parameters guiding the release, detention and treatment standards for unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Since then, federal courts have ruled minors crossing the border may not be detained for more than 20 days in government custody.

Looking back two decades, the soaring number of migrants applying for asylum arguably reflects consequences of loosening immigration laws and underscores the humanitarian and national security implications that go with it.

Don't forget, the Flores agreement was intended as a temporary measure. The failure by Congress to reach a solution led to the Obama administration's "catch and release" program and later the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy. Efforts to enforce current law exposes a flawed and broken immigration system.

Entrenched political gridlock continues to pressurize an unsustainable situation on the southern border, leading to the humanitarian crisis that demands urgent attention.

Where do we go from here?

We can't forget the Clinton-era Flores agreement created a perverse incentive for wrongdoers to exploit minors and manipulate U.S. enforcement policies for their own nefarious gains involving drug smuggling and human trafficking. In 2014, the Obama administration built family detention centers to address the influx of migrants at that time.

Those calling for open borders are proposing dangerous, misguided policies that would undermine national security and create even more incentives for mass migration.

Q: What are you doing to protect migrant minors from abuse?

A: As then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I led a bipartisan inquiry with ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, calling upon the inspectors general of the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to investigate allegations of abuse towards migrants in federal custody.

Since then, I have continued my oversight work as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. With ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden, we are investigating allegations of misconduct and abuse at federally-funded facilities providing care for unaccompanied children. In addition,

I am co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to improve background checks on guardians providing care for migrant children and a bill requiring children and parents to remain together during their immigration legal proceedings.

The allegations of improper and inhumane treatment of migrant children are unconscionable. During my county meetings in July, Iowans shared their concerns about the humanitarian crisis and border security.

I will bring this feedback to the policymaking tables and continue forging ahead to fix our broken system.

Although much more work remains to resolve the underlying issues, I'm glad the emergency spending bill will provide much-needed resources to help federal agencies provide appropriate standards of care to migrants in federal custody.

Here's what's included: $2.9 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services for the care of unaccompanied migrant children; $1.3 billion to the Department of Homeland Security for the housing and care of migrants at the southern border; 30 new immigration judge teams; alternatives to detention; legal orientation program to educate migrants about the immigration court process; funding for medical care, clothing, baby formula, diapers, hygiene products; counter-human trafficking operations; reunification of any separated families; and, benchmarks for facility standards recommended by the medical community.

These resources will provide a much-needed boost to address the humanitarian crisis.

But unless we resolve to fix the underlying drivers of illegal immigration and improve border security, we will find ourselves in the same situation, spending billions more in additional aid to support an unchecked stream of migrants. Congress cannot continue kicking the can down the road.

Otherwise, what the president's critics considered merely a tempest in a tea kettle will brew into a perfect storm with more tragic consequences.



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