Local Lawmakers Observe Border Issue

By Chris Roark
Flower Mound Leader

Texas state representatives Tan Parker and Ron Simmons have heard the stories of the unaccompanied children immigrating illegally to Texas from Mexico and Central America.

Last week, the two local lawmakers visited the Texas-Mexico border to get a first-hand look at the overall border issue, and they didn’t like what they saw.

Parker (R-Flower Mound) and Simmons (R-Carrollton) joined a small group of DPS and other law enforcement officials to tour Mission, McAllen and Brownsville.

The lawmakers didn’t see children crossing the border during their visit, but they saw the challenges border patrol agents have been dealing with.

“What I saw is how porous our border is, despite everything that we’re doing,” Parker said.

The state recently approved spending $1.3 million per week, which will mostly go toward troops, to secure the border.

That’s in addition to the $331 million the state legislature approved for border security in the 2013 legislative session, an increase from $221 million approved in 2011.

Some lawmakers say that’s not enough, and they point to the estimated 34,000 unaccompanied children that have been apprehended in the state this year as proof.

The children

Officials say the children have entered Texas without their parents to flee the drugs and violence in Central America. Those children are being housed in shelters across the state, including three locations in Dallas County. Parker said he doesn’t anticipate Denton County to be among the shelter locations.

Parker said the federal government needs to take a compassionate, yet quick, approach to the undocumented children who come to Texas.

“This is a humanitarian issue,” Parker said. “We need to give them food and the medical attention that they need, but then we need to expedite the process to get them back to their families. They have no business being here for a long period of time.”

A 2008 law, Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, allowed undocumented children to remain with relatives or a foster family in the United States until their deportation hearing. In contrast, children from Mexico and Canada are quickly sent back to their country.  

Simmons said that process can often take six months or longer, and he said less than 10 percent of those children ever go to the hearing. That means they stay where they are.

A recently proposed law could help change that. U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and U.S.  Rep. John Cuellar (D-Texas) on Tuesday filed legislation called the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act.

This legislation would, among other things, return children from other Central America countries back home within a week instead of waiting for the hearing, putting it in line with how children from Mexico and Canada are handled.

There is no word if Parker and Simmons would support the legislation.

Simmons said there have already been more apprehensions this year than all of last year.

“Eighty percent of those were people from places other than Mexico,” Simmons said. “And 80 percent of those were children.”

Simmons said the state would soon feel the effects of the recent influx.

“The challenge that we have is that the kids will come into our school system, and if they’re here, we have to figure out how to educate them,” Simmons said. “The cost to educate students is about $10,000 per child. And the federal government isn’t offering any reimbursement.”

Parker and Simmons point to executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that they say is the driving factor for this issue.

The law directed Homeland Security, border patrol and ICE to have flexibility when it comes to prosecuting children who are in the country illegally.

“When you do that, you’re turning a blind eye to the issue,” Parker said. “You’re sending a huge message that our borders are open, we support amnesty and you’re going to have a great life here in America. So come on.”

Parker said the number of unaccompanied children immigrating to the U.S. through Texas is three to four times higher than last year, and he said he expects it to continue.

A bigger problem

While Parker and Simmons didn’t witness any children crossing the border, they saw other activity that they said poses a threat to Texas and the rest of the country.

“We went to the [Rio Grande] River, and we saw two men paddling a raft back to Mexico,” Simmons said. “Officers said they had been dropping off contraband or a person into Texas.”

They also saw individuals get detained by DPS troops.

The legislators said this activity is indicative of drug cartels, gang activity, human trafficking and even terrorism.

“We have known intelligence that Al Qaeda, ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] and other groups that seek to do Americans great harm are south of our border today,” Parker said. “My fear is that, God forbid, significant terrorist activity would occur in this country, and when we trace back where they came from, they would have come through the Rio Grande, across our porous southern border. We know that the individuals coming across are not just from Mexico. We are seeing folks coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where terrorism is alive and well.”

The lawmakers said the immigration of the children is only making the problem worse.

“The traffic from the illegal activity has increased because border patrol is distracted by the children,” Simmons said.

Parker calls the children immigration a decoy.

“Our resources are strained more than ever because their focus is now on the children,” Parker said.

What to do

Parker and Simmons said the way to secure the border is to add more troops in the region. Parker is advocating for at least 1,000 troops in the region, and he said the quickest way is for the federal government to provide the National Guard until more DPS troops can be trained.

“There is no way to secure the border without more boots on the ground,” Parker said.

He added that more money needs to be spent on the DPS. Parker said he would push the appropriations committee to provide even more money for the effort.

Simmons, a member of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said he will continue to follow the progress.

Simmons and Parker said more troops would allow areas of the border to be covered that are currently soft spots. Parker said there is 1,254 miles of border in Texas.

Parker said he would support putting up a fence on the border but only in select areas.

In the meantime, he said, the federal government needs to stop sending other countries the message that the U.S. supports amnesty and that reversing the 2012 action is the answer.

Simmons said while the children are here, faith-based organizations need to get involved to help feed and clothe them.

“It’s a humanitarian issue,” Simmons said. “We’re a country with immigration laws, and we need to follow those. But our first responsibility is to protect our citizens. So it’s a balancing act.”