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Bipartisan plan introduced to curb US border crisis

A boy on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border fence peers into Nogales, Arizona on April 1, 2014
A boy on the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border fence peers into Nogales, Arizona on April 1, 2014

US lawmakers introduced a bipartisan plan Tuesday aimed at easing the swelling crisis along the southwest border by allowing Central American children to be returned to their home countries more quickly.

The bill comes as the White House, signaling its willingness to work with Republicans on a solution, seeks some $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address what President Barack Obama has called an "urgent humanitarian situation."

Since October, some 57,000 Central American child migrants fleeing poverty and crime have been apprehended illegally crossing from Mexico into the United States, many into the state of Texas.

The bill was introduced by number two Senate Republican John Cornyn and Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar, both of Texas, and aims to reform a 2008 law that grants migrant Central American children additional legal protections once they cross the border, including a court hearing to determine whether they are eligible to remain in the United States.

Senate Minority Whip Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks members of the media, June 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
Senate Minority Whip Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks members of the media, June 11, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC

Republicans and some Democrats alike acknowledge that the 2008 rule, implemented as an effort to crack down on sex trafficking of minors from non-contiguous countries into the United States, delays the repatriation process.

The new legislation would allow Central American children to return to their home countries for "voluntary reunification with family," and would allow unaccompanied child migrants seeking to remain legally in the United States to get a hearing with an immigration judge within seven days.

The bill provides for up to 40 new immigration judges to process the children more quickly.

Cornyn said there has been an immigration explosion among unaccompanied minors because cartels and human traffickers "have cracked the code."

"They figured out this gap in this 2008 law which allows children (to) basically be released to family members in the United States and be served with a notice to appear" before an immigration judge, Cornyn told MSNBC.

"It won't surprise you that most of them don't show back up (for their hearing) so it actually works."

Cornyn and Cuellar argue their bill would slow the number of child migrants because word would get back to parents in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that their children would be sent back home when apprehended at the border, instead of being allowed to stay with relatives pending a hearing.

Comprehensive immigration reform gained traction last year with the Senate's passage of a landmark bipartisan bill, but the effort derailed in the House of Representatives where Republicans feared the measure would provide "amnesty" to millions of undocumented workers in the country.