Crisis at the Border

Jul 18, 2014 Issues: Immigration

In recent weeks, I have heard from many Nebraskans concerned by the growing crisis at our southern border.  The problem of illegal immigration is nothing new, but this year there has been a surge of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children mostly from Central America crossing into our country. 

Families in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are sending their children alone to the United States because they believe they will have greater opportunities here.  They are also being encouraged by the belief children will be allowed to stay in the United States if they make it across the border – even if they are undocumented.  The President’s choice to not enforce certain immigration laws has only made this problem worse.

It is imperative we stop the flow of unaccompanied children to our country not only to protect our national security and sovereignty, but also to protect the children being sent here.  The border between the U.S. and Mexico is increasingly violent as rival drug cartels fight for territory and smuggling routes.  Unaccompanied children are especially at risk of being subjected to violence, human trafficking, and sexual predators.

The first step should be to secure the border.  President Obama should deploy the National Guard to help our border patrol enforce immigration laws.  The Administration has already started running commercials in Central American countries to dispel the rumors children will be allowed to stay in the U.S., and to warn parents of the dangers of attempting to cross the borders.  This is an important first step, but our rhetoric must be backed up with action.

While I and many others are sympathetic to the needs of the children already here, allowing them to stay indefinitely only encourages more to attempt this dangerous journey.  We need to work quickly to return these children to their home countries and families as quickly and safely as possible.

We need greater transparency about how many undocumented, unaccompanied children are in the country and where they are staying.  I and many others, including Governor Dave Heineman, were surprised to learn more than 200 unaccompanied child immigrants have been moved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Nebraska.  I joined the Governor and several other members of the Nebraska delegation in writing to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to request more information so safeguards can be put in place to protect the health and safety of our communities as well as to protect Nebraska taxpayers from additional burdens. 

I have also introduced legislation requiring HHS to provide states with advanced notification about the undocumented immigrant children relocated to their state.  Senator Johanns has introduced the Senate version of this bill.

I will continue to work to resolve this problem because the well-being of the children and the security of our national borders are too important to ignore.  I have heard from many Nebraskans on this issue, and I welcome your feedback, ideas, and solutions to this crisis.