- - Friday, July 11, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations to address the dissolution of the southern border reflects welcome, albeit belated, recognition of the magnitude of the current crisis. While the virtual collapse of the southern border can be attributed to administration policies, Congress should spend less time assessing blame and more time addressing the causes of this urgent challenge.

The executive enforces federal laws; Congress writes them. In response to the threat of human trafficking, Congress unanimously reauthorized legislation preventing prompt deportation of unaccompanied alien children from noncontiguous countries in 2008. For years, the number of noncontiguous unaccompanied children entering the country remained relatively small and stable.

As Texas Gov. Rick Perry warned in a 2012 letter the president did not answer, the administration’s open-borders approach to immigration enforcement invited an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration. Last December, Texas-based U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen wrote that “[the government] has simply chosen not to enforce the United States’ border-security laws.”

The president’s emergency supplemental request does not address this problem. It requests money for more Border Patrol agents. However, as the union representing these agents has noted, illegal immigrants are no longer deterred by Mr. Obama’s Border Patrol; they now surrender to it. Mr. Obama must return the Border Patrol to its statutory mandate of detecting and preventing the entry of illegal immigrants into the United States. Until this occurs, adding Border Patrol agents to serve as uniformed frontier greeters does nothing to stop illegal immigration.

More immigration judges also won’t slow the influx. Under current law, immigration judges lack independent discretion to repatriate the small number of noncontiguous unaccompanied children who appear at scheduled deportation hearings. Illegal immigrants are no more likely to attend deportation hearings if released and asked to reappear in two months rather than six: their release virtually ensures non-attendance. Current levels of illegal immigration will diminish only when “catch and release” is replaced by “deter, detain and repatriate.”

The appropriations power of Congress is extraordinarily broad. Any supplemental appropriations bill it approves must contain the following principles. First, it must repeal the existing statutory loophole by equalizing the status of unaccompanied children among contiguous and noncontiguous countries. The president expressed his commitment to eliminating this loophole last week, and Congress should take him up at his word. Second, Congress must condition appropriations upon the return of arrivals to their home countries within a clearly defined schedule.

Third, Millennium Challenge Account and other U.S. grants to Central American governments must be conditioned upon the willingness of Central American governments to stanch the exodus of illegal immigrants. According to the Pew Center, in 2013 Guatemala received $4.4 billion in U.S. remittances, Honduras $2.6 billion, and El Salvador $3.6 billion. Central American governments that encourage illegal immigration to our shores to facilitate the flow of hard currency to theirs should not be awarded additional taxpayer funds from the U.S. Treasury.

Fourth, Congress should authorize funds to deploy the National Guard to stabilize the chaos. While Congress cannot direct Guard deployment, providing funds for this purpose would help take pressure off an overburdened Border Patrol and secure an objective House Speaker John A. Boehner has supported. Fifth, any supplemental border-security bill should direct funds toward helping Mexico secure its southern border and provide funding for detention facilities in that country.

Finally, Congress must work to promote greater hemispheric stability by encouraging U.S. investment and by helping to establish open and transparent market-based economies. This includes reducing demand for illegal narcotics and assisting law enforcement efforts throughout the region. The United States is no less sovereign than any other country on Earth. Our borders demarcate America’s sovereignty. The executive has a constitutional obligation to ensure faithful execution of the laws, including protecting the territorial integrity of the United States. It has failed to do so.

When it comes to America’s border, national leaders must recognize that “you didn’t build that,” our Founders and subsequent generations did. America’s borders are simply not theirs to yield, surrender or give away.

Mr. Obama won’t be on midterm ballots in four months, but the collapse of our borders will. Political recriminations must now yield to legislative solutions. Americans expect the president to show leadership and for Congress to stay in session until it resolves this urgent humanitarian and national security crisis.

So get to work.

Robert N. Tracci served as chief legislative counsel and parliamentarian to the House Judiciary Committee.

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