- - Monday, July 21, 2014

This month, I met a Guatemalan woman who spent $28,000 to get herself and each of her three young granddaughters into the United States through illegal means. The girls wore matching pink polka dot shirts as they waited to be processed at the Border Patrol detention facility in McAllen, Texas. Like many others, they had embarked on the dangerous journey from Central America to the United States. The three young girls were traumatized, scared and crying to their grandmother to please take them back home. It was jarring and sad, yet notable because unlike many of the other children in the room, these girls were not traveling alone.

On July 3, the House Committee on Homeland Security hosted a field hearing in McAllen to discuss the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Since October 2013, more than 52,000 children have entered the country — some enduring starvation, sexual assault and beatings during their journey. Some have even died. They travel on buses, or on top of packed freight trains known as “La Bestia” or “The Beast” — or sometimes, they’re known as the “Death Train.” Shockingly, the Death Train goes “unnoticed” by the Mexican government.

Yet this problem isn’t new. The past four administrations, both Republican and Democratic alike, have failed to adequately secure our borders and enforce the laws on the books. Families in Mexico and Central America think that if they send their children on a long and treacherous journey to the United States, they will get to stay and enjoy the benefits of living here. To some extent, they’re correct.

Under the Obama administration, steps have been taken by executive action to loosen existing immigration laws. In 2012, President Obama unilaterally enacted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has allowed scores of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors before June 2007 to be exempt from existing immigration laws. Since that time, the number of illegal-immigrant children crossing our borders has grown exponentially. Policies such as these offer little faith that our immigration laws will be faithfully executed in the future. In order to solve the president’s self-created border crisis, we must change the underlying policies and ensure that enforcement will not be selective.

Furthermore, Mr. Obama cannot claim he hasn’t been warned of the disaster he has created. In 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent the president a letter warning of the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border and the humanitarian crisis it could create. At that time, only an estimated 5,200 unaccompanied minors had crossed the border illegally into the United States. That number has increased drastically since then. However, contrary to the Obama administration’s narrative, it appears that this influx of unaccompanied minors might have been anticipated. In January, the federal government issued an advertisement seeking vendors to handle an anticipated 65,000 unaccompanied minors at the border. This information indicates that the current surge of unaccompanied minors at our border was not unexpected — and yet the president has done nothing to solve this problem.

It is indeed heartbreaking that parents in the poorest and most violent parts of Mexico and Central America are motivated to send their children to the United States alone in search of a better life, but the circumstances that led to such decisions are not new. However, now that news of our loosened immigration laws has spread to these countries, the motivation has seemingly grown, and it must be reversed if these children are truly to be protected.

While the president’s proposal entails throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at the problem, I remain steadfast in my belief that enforcing the laws on the books is the best solution for stopping the flood of children embarking on these dangerous and sometimes deadly journeys. This is a policy problem, not a spending problem, and the only way we are going to stop this humanitarian crisis is by sending a clear message of deterrence. Unfortunately, the president’s $3.7 billion spending request would simply expedite the process of unlawful entry rather than focus on repatriating these children to their families and country.

As we work to address this crisis head-on, we must be mindful of the taxpayers’ dollars and protect them from being used to fuel Mr. Obama’s same failed policies. Our current policies have created this problem — and we cannot write the president a blank check to continue along the same path of destruction. Bottom line: We are a nation of laws, and the president must lead by example by enforcing those laws so that we can prevent more suffering and tragedy at the border. It is a matter of life and death, and we must send a clear message to those who send their children to the United States — they will be sent home if they do not follow the law. That is the only way we can both stop this humanitarian crisis and ensure that our borders are secured.

Paul C. Broun, a physician, is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia.