Yesterday, President Obama requested close to $4 billion from Congress to help handle the surge of young migrants – mostly children 12 years old and under – crossing the Texas border from Central America.
The money will be used to set up new detention facilities, conduct more aerial surveillance and hire immigration judges and border patrol agents to respond to over 52,000 unaccompanied children and 39,000 adults with children who have made the dangerous journey across the border.
Representatives from Texas have been vocal about this crisis in the past few weeks, suggesting that securing the border must be the first step towards addressing this sudden mass migration that has overwhelmed local resources and touched off protests from residents angry about the impact on the local economy.
Governor Rick Perry has been particularly critical of the President. He commented, “My message to President Obama is to secure this border, Mr. President. Finally address this issue and secure this border,” last week at a congressional hearing near the border in McAllen, Texas.
And in an impassioned speech earlier this week, Perry became increasingly aggressive, using more muscular language. “This is a failure of diplomacy. It is a failure of leadership from the administration in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
To no one’s surprise the crisis has set off another fraught political battle in Washington, with Republican leadership insisting that nothing will change if the border isn’t secured outright.
Just this morning House Speaker John Boehner said, “So it’s time for us to take a serious look at what needs to happen. If we don’t secure the border, nothing is going to change…We’ve got to do something about sealing the border and ending this problem so that we can begin to move on with the bigger question of immigration reform.”
There are not many who disagree that we need to secure the border. Indeed, during the 2012 campaign, President Obama said that the southwestern border was secure. In a 2011 speech in El Paso, Obama insisted that “Over the past two years we have answered those concerns…we have strengthened border security beyond what many believed was possible.”
Today, the President knows as well as anyone that he spoke too soon and we need even stronger border security measures.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the money President Obama requested is urgently needed.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said it well: “Plainly, the situation for many of these unaccompanied children is extremely dire, and the United States has both a security and a moral obligation to help solve the crisis at hand.”
These children need humanitarian assistance. They can’t wait for the months – and even years – it usually takes for Congress to get anything done.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday on President Obama’s request and could move to a markup as early as next week. But at this stage, it’s possible the funding debate won’t be fully joined until Congress deals with the continuing resolution needed after Labor Day to avert another shutdown this fall.
Not only can we not afford another shutdown, we can’t afford to wait on the President’s request. More to the point, we need the “comprehensive immigration reform” both sides are continually gesturing towards but have yet to make good on.
To be sure, the Republicans bear much of the blame in this regard.