As lawmakers debate how to stem the flood of unaccompanied minors across the southern border, The Daily Signal has learned that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., will introduce a bill this morning to modify the anti-trafficking law identified as a key factor in the surge of young illegal immigrants.
In a statement to The Daily Signal, Vitter said:
We need a policy that actually deters illegal immigration. I’ve said that if we want to send a message to others thinking about coming here illegally, let’s deport these people by the planeload.
Among other things, Vitter’s bill would amend the 2008 human trafficking law to:
- require mandatory detention of all unaccompanied minors upon apprehension by border agents.
- give unaccompanied minors the option to voluntarily return to their country of origin.
- place unaccompanied minors affiliated with gangs in an “expedited” removal proceeding.
- raise the standards for “credible fear of persecution” for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum under the law.
- place unaccompanied minors without claims for asylum on the next available flight to their home countries within 72 hours of an initial screening, barring cost, feasibility, repatriation agreements with the minors’ countries and the health and safety of the minor.
In his comments to The Daily Signal, Vitter also said:
Our lax enforcement of immigration laws for decades has only encouraged more immigrants to come here illegally. That’s exactly why we’re seeing the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving at our southern border.
James Carafano, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, commended Vitter for his legislation.
“Vitter is focused on exactly the right issue,” Carafano told The Daily Signal. “The number one mission for Washington is re-establishing the stability and sovereignty of the border.”
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — the 2008 measure that Congress passed unanimously and President George W. Bush signed into law — requires the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America to be provided housing, united with relatives and scheduled for a hearing in immigration court to begin to determine whether they can be granted asylum.
The 2008 law does not allow such provisions to be made for unaccompanied minors from Mexico or Canada. Many minors crossing the southern border are from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras.
Since October, more than 52,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught or given themselves up after crossing the border into Texas. Many lawmakers say the 2008 law should be amended to deter more young immigrants from coming into the U.S. illegally.
President Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion in “emergency” funds to stem the surge of children. Among other things, the funds would help the Department of Health and Human Services house and care for the migrants and allow the Department of Justice to hire more judges, lawyers, and asylum officers to speed up the cases of those caught crossing the border.
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The president’s request, however, does not include any revisions to the 2008 law that observers say has had the unintended effect of encouraging minors to come and requiring the government to welcome them.
“Many of the steps Senator Vitter proposes are initiatives that a responsible administration would have taken on its own to deal with the crisis,” Carafano said.
Lawmakers also are considering a bill proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
The bipartisan duo’s measure, introduced earlier this week, requires an asylum hearing for unaccompanied minors within seven days of a request for one. Immigration judges also would have to determine whether a young border crosser could remain in the United States within 72 hours of the child’s making a claim to do so.
Although Republicans and Democrats in Congress hoped to act quickly to address the border crisis, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he is not confident lawmakers can reach a compromise on allocating emergency funds.
House Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, favor Obama’s $3.7 billion request, while Republicans want to see changes to the anti-trafficking law.
Lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington for the August recess in two weeks.