Mikulski Floor Statement on Emergency Supplemental Funding for Children Seeking Refuge in the U.S.
Contact: Vince Morris (202) 224-1010
***Video of Floor Statement***
Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski’s Floor Statement on the President’s Emergency Supplemental Funding Request for Children Seeking Refuge in the U.S.
“It is not a border enforcement problem. It is a criminal gang problem in Central America…We need to meet these urgent humanitarian needs, and we need to focus on our hemisphere to break up the gang in crime.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor about the President’s emergency supplemental funding request of $3.7 billion for children seeking refuge in the United States.
The following are Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as delivered:
“I rise today to talk about an urgent crisis at our border in which over 250 children a week are coming from Central America, fleeing horrific gang violence to seek refuge and asylum in the United States of America.
“This is being called a crisis at the border, but the crisis actually begins in Central America where brutal, violent gangs based on organized crime are trying to recruit boys into organized crime, drug smuggling, and human trafficking and girls into human trafficking and other just dangerous and repugnant circumstances.
“But when you go to the border the way I have, you will see that the situation is dire. And it's dire because as these children come to the border, they mostly cross over a 50-mile stretch of the 1,900 mile long Rio Grande and are not trying to ‘sneak’ in.
“They come right up to where the Border Patrol is, and they have pieces of paper with their name on it and the name of the adult in America they hope to join up with. They are then taken into custody by Border Patrol and are placed in holding cells that are really designed for adult males. They were designed to hold drug smugglers, narco-traffickers and now they hold as many as 20 or 30 or 40 children. Under the law, the children are to be placed in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) while their legal and asylum status is being verified.
“Well, I’m telling you, the entire infrastructure for dealing with these children in overwhelmed, from the way the Border Patrol is trying to take care of them, to the overrunning of the capacity of these holding cells, to the backlog on processing their legal asylum determination, to trying to place them in facilities under the care of Health and Human Services.
“The situation is dire, and the President of the United States has asked for emergency funding to deal with it. I hope that we consider this emergency funding. The amount of money that the President is seeking is $3.7 billion. This is to care for the humanitarian needs of the children, the enforcement at the border and the identification of their legal status under a law passed during the Bush Administration to deal with the trafficking of children – both boys and girls – as well as robust deterrence in the home countries where these children are coming.
“But deterrence comes from breaking down and prosecuting the organized crime syndicates of the smugglers and the traffickers. We're also asking for money to conduct a massive educational campaign advising Central American families against the dangers and false hopes of this journey.
“The journey is indeed dangerous, Mr. President. They come on foot, they come by car, they ride the tops of a train that's referred to as ‘The Beast.’ There is one little girl that I spoke to with Secretary Johnson. She had stayed awake for two days on the rooftop of a train, terrified that she would fall off and be mutilated, just to be able to make it into the United States of America. And why did she make such a perilous, dangerous journey? It's because they were trying to recruit her into these violent and vile ways.
“We need to make sure that Central America, with our help, goes after the seven organized crime units that we know are sparking this by trying to recruit these kids. They give them false promises, too, that if they come to this country they will be able to get a free pass somehow to live in this country. We need to be able to stop this and be able to deal with it in the most effective way. The President's program actually does outline the money needed to be able to do that.
“When the children do come and are awaiting their legal status to be determined, they are placed in the hands of HHS. Now HHS doesn't directly run group homes. HHS doesn't run foster care. HHS funds it, and they need to be able to turn to local communities so that these children are able to stay.
“And I saw fantastic work being done while the children were being placed at Lackland Air Force Base and that the social services were being run, under contract by the faith-based organization, the Baptist Church.
“Now, I know the distinguished Presiding Officer knows a lot about human services. I myself am a social worker, and I will tell you that faith-based organization is really running a good program for these kids. But we are running out of money.
“We need money for food and shelter for the children. We need money for the border agents. We need money for transportation to shelters and also transportation when we can return these children home. We need money for immigration judges and legal services for the children to determine their asylum status. And as I said, we need the muscular deterrence in the home country breaking up the organized gangs that then create the violence that sets these children on this journey.
“The best way to make sure that the surge of children is stopped is not by harsher immigration rules. It's by making it hard on the drug dealers and the human traffickers, the smugglers and the coyotes because they are the reason the children are coming.
“Looking at the data, we see that these children are coming not only from where there is high poverty, but the children are coming from where there is a high level of crime, particularly homicide, murder and other recruitment of children. These children were almost being recruited by child soldiers in their own country to engage in violent criminal activity.
“So we need to be able to look at this emergency supplemental and be able to meet the human needs while the children are here and fund the immigration judges and the services to determine their asylum status.
“Already 60,000 unaccompanied children have come into our country during this last year. In the two weeks that I toured the border, I saw young children as young as five, with one instruction – cross the border, turn yourself in and try to get as safe as you can.
“Border agents find these children often dehydrated, malnourished and usually a victim of some type of trauma. And also, they have heard false promises from the smugglers about what it will be like when they come here. These smugglers, as part of these dangerous gangs and cartels, see women and children as a commodity to be bought, sold and transported as if they were cargo. Children leave their homes based on lies. They think that they're coming to an area where they will never have to go back home or that they will be safe.
“I hope that we pass this appropriation. I hope that in passing the appropriations, we'll be able to protect the safety of the children, we determine their legal and asylum status and we have this muscular deterrence strategy in the home country.
“Now, there are those who want to have a new immigration policy or repeal the George Bush law. I would caution that because, remember, our problem is not the children. Our problem is what causes the children to come. We have to go after what causes the children to come, and that's the drug dealers, the smugglers, and the coyotes – those that are engaging in such violent crime.
“The host countries, along with Mexico, need to help deal with this. And we need to marshal our law enforcement resources to be able to help them through this. Now, they say, ‘Let's bring in the National Guard at the border.’ What's our National Guard going to do? When these little kids cross the Rio Grande, they're going to go right up to that soldier, put their arms around the soldier’s leg and say, ‘I need to be safe, can you help me?’ What are those National Guard going to do?
“It is not a border enforcement problem. It is a criminal gang problem in Central America. So we need to be sure that we are targeting the right areas in order to solve this problem. The children are not the threats. They are coming here because they are threatened themselves. We need to meet these urgent humanitarian needs, and we need to focus on our hemisphere to break up the gang in crime.
“Now, later on today, I hope that we are going to have a briefing for every single senator so that they can ask questions about this situation. Who are the children? Why are they coming? What are their legal rights under the law? But how can we effectively deal with this children's march, where the children are in danger in their host country and on the long journey to this one.
“We are also asking that this $3.7 billion be designated as an emergency. There are those who will want to take from other domestic programs. I would caution that, and in fact, I object to the very idea of that.
“The president has said this is an emergency – an emergency under the Budget Control Act of 2011. It meets the criteria that it is ‘sudden, urgent, unforeseen and temporary’ and deals with the ‘loss of life or property’ or ‘threat to national security.’ I think it meets that test.
“I do not want to take offsets from existing programs to fill this need. It is unexpected. It's significant. We can deal with it but let's not do it at the expense of other programs designed to help the American family and the American middle class.
“Mr. President, I know that there are others who want to speak on this. I will have more to say later. But for now, let's examine the urgent supplemental and let's really solve the problem at the border and what causes it to be a problem for us. Mr. President, I yield the floor.”
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