The border crisis unfolding in Texas is, depending on whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, either President Barack Obama’s fault or an unavoidable humanitarian crisis created by Central American violence and poverty.
Those are the competing narratives emerging in congressional statements, interviews and hearings this week as lawmakers from both parties visit detention centers in Texas and elsewhere to see firsthand the flood of young children and mothers who have entered the country illegally in recent months.
At a Homeland Security Committee field hearing in McAllen, Texas Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry led Republican criticism of the White House, telling lawmakers from both parties the flood of unaccompanied minors is attributable to failed Washington policies.
Perry and other Republicans presented the situation as a national security crisis, with Perry calling on lawmakers to supply more border security agents and more resources.
Specifically, Perry wants the National Guard sent to the border, and he wants the federal government to pay Texas back for the money it has already spent addressing the crisis.
Perry noted that there are, on average, 17 border patrol agents per mile between El Paso, Texas, and the edge of California, while there are only seven border security agents between El Paso and the eastern-most point of the Rio Grande.
Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said to fix the crisis, “the administration must first recognize its failed immigration and border policies are the source of the problem.”
McCaul noted that the committee repeatedly heard last week that “the horrible economic conditions and violence in Central America were the only reason these kids are coming.”
While McCaul said no one questions that the circumstances in these countries are terrible, “these conditions are not new, and they have not suddenly gotten worse.”
“What is new,” McCaul said, “is a series of executive actions by the administration to grant immigration benefits to children outside the purview of the law, a relaxed enforcement posture, along with talk of comprehensive immigration reform.”
But Democrats said the crisis has more to do with human dignity than with law enforcement.
Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who acted as the ranking member for the field hearing, noted she took lollipops to the holding facility in McAllen that lawmakers had visited earlier in the day.
“This is not a national security crisis,” Jackson Lee said. “This is a humanitarian crisis.”
Perry didn’t seem to disagree — at one point, he noted that “we have multiple crises here” — but he still tried to paint the situation as a national security threat.
He said the border was being penetrated “by countries with strong terrorist ties,” and he said he believes the situation was being manufactured by drug cartels.
Which is why, Perry said, the primary need is enhanced border security.
But some Democrats seemed to think that would have little effect on stemming the tide.
As California Democrat Eric Swalwell noted, children were running into the open arms of border security agents. “Wouldn’t additional border security agents increase the number of open arms these children are running into?” Swalwell asked.
Perry’s answer seemed to be that the situation is complex, but that Washington can’t continue with “the same old policies.”
“I really believe we can find a solution,” he said.
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