- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2014

A top Republican who spent the past two days investigating the border surge of illegal immigrants from Central America said Thursday that most of them are trying to reunite with relatives who are already living illegally in the U.S., and the best way to stop the surge is to speed up the threat of deportations.

Virginia Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that after speaking with immigration agents who are on the front lines intercepting and processing the families and unaccompanied children, it’s clear illegal immigrants don’t believe there are any consequences for jumping the border.

“The Border Patrol agents that we spoke to were pretty consistent in saying they think the best way to stop this crisis is through deterrence. They were very clear that deterrence must be the focus and there must be an end to the so-called catch-and-release policy,” Mr. Goodlatte said.

Catch-and-release is the name agents have given to the policy involving illegal immigrants from non-Mexican countries who are caught at the border. Those immigrants cannot immediately be returned to their home countries, and because there isn’t enough space in detention facilities to hold them, most are released with a summons to appear later in immigration court — a summons many of them ignore.

With Congress on a week-long break from Washington, Mr. Goodlatte led a delegation of lawmakers from his committee to visit South Texas, where tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are overloading the government’s ability to handle them.

Later Thursday, the House Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing in South Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry and other local officials will testify.

SEE ALSO: Obama has no plans to visit Texas border

Republicans and Democrats have debated the causes of the surge.

President Obama had initially argued the problem was increasing violence in those three Central American countries. And analysts agreed that violence has been heightened for several years.

But Republicans said that can’t explain the tremendous surge in just the last few months, with apprehensions doubling.

They say the blame lies with Mr. Obama’s non-deportation policies and with the smugglers who are exploiting those policies, telling Central Americans that there are few consequences for trying to sneak into the U.S.

Mr. Goodlatte said there are “defects” in existing U.S. law that make it tougher to quickly deport illegal immigrants from Central America — particularly when it comes to children, who must be processed and turned over to social workers, and whose cases can take five years or more to clear the immigration courts. Many of the children will even gain legal status by claiming asylum or winning a special juvenile visa.

But Mr. Goodlatte rejected Democrats’ calls to pass a broad immigration legalization bill, saying that promises of legal status are what caused the surge in the first place.

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• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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