U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz plans to file a tougher alternative to a bipartisan measure to curb the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America who are crossing into the United States, his office confirmed late Wednesday night.
"The president's policies that allow people who come here illegally to stay is what is creating a magnet for this crisis, and the problem can't be solved until those policies are stopped," Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said. "This should be a prerequisite for any legislation that is considered by the Senate on this issue."
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, filed the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency, or HUMANE, Act, which would amend a 2008 provision in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act that requires unaccompanied minors coming to the U.S. from Central America to receive greater legal protections than those from Mexico or Canada. The HUMANE Act would stop that preferential treatment.
But Cruz, Texas' other Republican senator, has his eyes on something more drastic. Frazier said Cruz is working on a measure to prevent President Obama from expanding the 2012 Deferred Action for Children Arrivals, which the conservative senator blames for contributing to the surge.
By the end of the June, more than 57,000 children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, had journeyed alone to the U.S. border since last October. If nothing changes, that number could swell to more than 90,000 by the end of September and 145,000 by next year.
No specific details about Cruz's measure were immediately available. Frazier said Cruz will file the bill on Thursday.
Current law mandates that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security process the Central American minors before handing them over to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places the children with a relative or guardian until they appear before a judge. The wait time could be three to five years, Cuellar said, which has helped fuel the surge on the South Texas border.
The “voluntary departure” component of the HUMANE bill would allow the Central American youth to waive their immigration hearings and be returned back to their countries of origin almost immediately.
The Cuellar-Cornyn measure has been criticized by some who say it is not fair to offer that choice to children with little or no resources and little knowledge of the law.