SAN ANTONIO — Warning of the dangers faced by undocumented and unaccompanied children crossing the border into the U.S., Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday called on the Obama administration to more strictly enforce immigration laws.
Abbott and Cruz were joined by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, at a news conference following a tour of Lackland Air Force Base, where several unaccompanied minors are being held in a temporary shelter that has been run by the federal Department of Health and Human Services since May 18.
“It is unacceptable to have children housed in facilities like this,” Abbott said. “Equally unacceptable, though, is to have a president promoting policies that entice children to navigate more than a thousand miles away from home, going through the most treacherous conditions, facing things like human trafficking and sexual assault.”
"If we want to prevent the victimization of children, the president must follow the law," Cruz added.
The Obama administration, which, like Abbott and Cruz, has called the wave of child immigrants a “humanitarian crisis,” has argued that the influx is because of families and children fleeing poverty and gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and because of human smugglers spreading misinformation about U.S. policy to increase their profits.
The federal government has had to employ facilities like Lackland, which has room for up to 1,200 children, to house the surging numbers of undocumented minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without parents. Since Oct. 1, 2013, about 50,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended crossing the border, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection — twice as many as were apprehended in the previous 12 months.
The vast majority of the children come from Central America, not Mexico, so they cannot be easily deported. The government’s policy is to hold the children in shelters until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors in the United States, with instructions to appear in court for a hearing to determine their immigration status.
Last week, state leaders announced a $1.3 million-per-week increase in funding for Department of Public Safety border operations. DPS officials have said that their mission is to enforce criminal laws like drug and human trafficking, not immigration laws, over which the federal government has exclusive authority.
“DPS is deploying boots on the ground, assets in the air, as well as boats on the water,” said Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor.
Several lawmakers have called for immediate action to address the unprecedented number of illegal border crossers into Texas, with some saying a special session is needed. On Monday, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, joined those calling for a special legislative session.
On Monday, Abbott and Cruz repeated their argument that President Obama’s immigration policies caused the spike in undocumented immigration by sending the message that children who cross the border illegally will not be deported.
Under the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals policy, implemented in 2012, some undocumented immigrants who came to America as minors can defer deportation for renewable two-year terms. The policy only applies to people who were brought to the U.S. before June 15, 2007.
Cruz said the policy “lawlessly granted amnesty” to 800,000 undocumented immigrants, encouraging parents in Central America to send their children on a dangerous journey north.
“If they knew and understood what their children would experience, they wouldn’t hand their children over” to smugglers, Cruz said.