Hearings

2141 Rayburn House Office Building

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte

There is a tsunami hitting our nation’s southern border – unaccompanied alien minors (UAMs) and adults traveling with minors are arriving in unprecedented numbers. Central American minors, largely teenagers, are making a perilous journey through Mexico and then walking miles across a hostile border environment, assisted by smugglers, and coming to the United States in violation of the law.

According to Deputy Border Patrol Chief, Ronald Vitiello, who will testify today, the Department of Homeland Security expects to apprehend more than 90,000 unaccompanied minors on the border this year.  The estimated number of “UAMs” apprehended in 2014 represents a 1,381% increase since 2011, while the projected number of 142,000 apprehensions in 2015 represents a 2,232% increase.  It is not just UAMs who are arriving – adults bringing along minors are also coming. Since 2011 the number of apprehended individuals comprising family units has increased from 13,600 to 42,000 for this year as of June 16th.  Taking into account just half of this year, we have seen a 143% increase in families apprehended at the border since 2012. 

The Administration claims that these unlawful aliens are coming to the U.S. based upon generalized violence, strife, conflict, and discord in their home countries. It is true that these factors have always played a role in Central Americans coming to the U.S. illegally. 

Undoubtedly, seeing strife in economically disadvantaged countries along with seeing impoverished women and children showing up at our nation’s door step arouses the deepest of sympathies.   However, the factors causing the recent and unprecedented surge are very different than those claimed by the Administration.  

A May 28, 2014, Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Sector Intelligence Report tells a story that is strikingly different than the claimed humanitarian crisis the Administration paints as responsible for the surge.  The report summarized interviews conducted with hundreds of apprehended Central Americans minors and quite frankly paints a very different picture of the situation.

According to the report, when these individuals were asked why they made the journey to the United States, approximately 95% indicated that the main reason was to take advantage of the “new” U.S. “law” that grants a “free pass” or permit (referred to as “permisos”) being issued by the U.S. government to women traveling with minors and unaccompanied alien minors. While no new law has been enacted, the truth is that this Administration has dramatically altered immigration enforcement policies.  The timing of the change in policies correlates closely with the steep uptick of individuals showing up at the border.  Apparently, word has gotten out that once encountered by Border Patrol agents and processed, thanks to this Administration’s lax enforcement policies, one will likely never be removed. 

Word has spread to the Americas and beyond that the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented, and most likely unconstitutional, steps in order to shut down the enforcement of our immigration laws for millions of unlawful and criminal aliens not considered high enough “priorities,” especially minors and adults with minors.  The world seems to know that DHS refuses to enforce the law under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion.” The beneficiaries of these policies even include many thousands of aliens who have been arrested by state and local law enforcement or convicted criminals who have been put in removal proceedings and who DHS has simply let back onto our streets.

And now those beneficiaries include those minors and families who continue to arrive at our border and the Administration ushers in via “100% reverse escorts” into the interior of the United States.  Most are ultimately released, often into the hands of those who paid smugglers to bring them here in the first place.     

In addition to simply not pursuing removable aliens, DHS has been granting hundreds of thousands of these individuals administrative legalization and work authorization.  DHS does this under many guises, invoking doctrines with esoteric names such as “deferred action” and “parole-in-place”. The net effect of these policies has been described by former ICE Acting Director John Sandweg -- “If you are a run-of-the mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero . . . .”  Apparently, those arriving at our borders now know this.

Indeed, Father Heyman Vazquez, the director of a migrant shelter in Mexico, told news outlets that children and families are encouraged to cross into the U.S. illegally because they think they will be given amnesty. Vazquez said, "I remember a little boy of 9 years old and I asked if he was going to go meet someone and he told me ‘No, I’m just going to hand myself over because I hear they help kids.'" In addition, like so many others across Central America, Robin Tulio, a 13-year-old, said his mother believed that the Obama Administration had quietly changed its policy regarding unaccompanied minors, and that if he made it across, he would have a better shot at staying. In the meantime, Central American media touts an open door to the U.S. for minors and families. 

Based on information the Committee has received, it seems that the Administration has known about this problem for some time.  Rev. Richard Ryscavage, who serves on the White House immigration advisory panel, agrees.  He stated that “Officials hid the fast-growing migration crisis from the media because they’re still trying to pass a very unpopular immigration rewrite.”  He indicated, “That’s the [Administration’s] priority – to get that Senate-type bill passed. They didn’t do anything public about it, they didn’t want to tell anyone about it… [and] they’re now in a stage where they’re feeling ‘We have to figure out a strategy.’” Ryscavage concludes, “That’s what the administration is most afraid of – that [the border surge] will derail any discussion of reform of the immigration laws.”

Unfortunately, these statements show that the Administration has made a fundamental miscalculation.  Its failure to secure our borders, mitigate threats to national security, or enforce our immigration laws only undermines Congress’s ability to reform our immigration laws. 

It was easy to predict that people in South and Central America, as well as in Mexico, would recognize a veiled invitation from the Administration to send their children and families to the United States with little chance of deportation.

These individuals know that the Administration’s policy of non-enforcement of our immigration laws presents a golden opportunity for unaccompanied minors and families with minors to come to the U.S., most likely to be released with very little chance of ever being removed.  The Administration’s message is tragic because the journey the Administration encourages is so dangerous and results in death, disease, and harm to so many minors along the way.  It is often said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  Unfortunately, it seems Obama fiddles while our borders implode. 

I look forward to finding out from the witnesses today what if anything, the Obama Administration plans to do about this crisis and what solutions could work to end it. I’d like to thank all of the witnesses – many of whom are career law enforcement professionals – for taking the time to testify today.

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