There is a growing humanitarian crisis along the Texas-Mexico border.
Over the last month, thousands of underage migrants have landed in border patrol stations across the Rio Grande Valley. An overwhelming number of these migrants are unaccompanied children who are coming from Central American countries. Many are being transferred to other facilities in Texas. The Department of Health and Human Services is holding the minors until a relative can be found to take them in while their cases are processed.
While Republicans are taking their usual “blame Obama” approach to handling the emergency, Democrats are looking for solutions.
Senator Wendy Davis has called for Rick Perry to declare a “State of Emergency” to help local law enforcement.
She also wants Perry to convene a special legislative session to increase funding to city and county officials, first-responders and charities, and has urged him to press for increased federal support.
Catch up on the situation below the jump and read Wendy Davis's letter to Rick Perry. The influx of minors first became national news in mid-May, when the numbers of under-18 migrants crossing the border started to rapidly increase. Tens of thousands of youths are crossing the border, most escaping poverty and violence. Some seek a parent or relative who has already made the journey north.
As The New York Times explains, the sheer number of under-aged people crossing the border has overwhelmed what facilities exist to take in minors and process them while their cases work their way through an overwhelmed judicial system. The NYT writes,
By law, unaccompanied children caught crossing illegally from countries other than Mexico are treated differently from other migrants. After being apprehended by the Border Patrol, they must be turned over within 72 hours to a refugee resettlement office that is part of the Health Department. Health officials must try to find relatives or other adults in the United States who can care for them while their immigration cases move through the courts, a search that can take several weeks or more.
The Health Department maintains shelters for the youths, most run by private contractors, in the border region. Health officials had begun several months ago to add beds in the shelters anticipating a seasonal increase. But the plans proved insufficient to handle a drastic increase of youths in recent weeks, a senior administration official said.
Republicans are largely blaming President Obama for being insufficiently xenophobic and / or wanting to provide a future for young immigrants who come to the United States without sufficient documentation.
Admittedly the influx of minors will cost the federal government — and local governments along the border — a great deal of money and man-power. The cost to detain a child in the United States is approximately $252 per day. Speeding up the time in which these children have their cases processed is certainly a priority, as is providing additional support in the form of health and human services to free up border patrol to return to their jobs watching for terrorists and busting drug cartels.
Senator Wendy Davis has sent a comprehensive letter listing the steps Governor Rick Perry should take right away to address this crisis.
Davis is also calling on Rick “Fed Up” Perry to press the federal government for more money to help address the growing humanitiarian crisis.
Below is the full text of the letter Wendy Davis sent Governor Rick Perry calling on him to take proactive steps to address the crisis at the border (emphasis in original).
June 23, 2014
The Honorable Rick Perry
State of Texas
Dear Governor Perry:
The crisis along our border is an emergency and requires additional immediate attention.
As you know, families from across Central America – primarily from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – are surrendering to federal border patrol agents along the Texas Rio Grande Valley at unprecedented rates. In fact, since last October, an estimated 174,000 individuals and families, many of them children, have crossed the border and turned themselves over to federal immigration authorities.
The situation is untenable. Federal border agents and facilities are overwhelmed trying to address this human crisis instead of focusing on their first priority to secure our border from drug smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists. You took a solid step, which I support, to address that by increasing support to the Department of Public Safety to help along the border.
However, local counties, cities and charitable organizations are also spending already limited resources to meet the basic needs of these individuals and their families. Adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare are equally important.
I share the concern of our state colleagues and local leaders along the border about this growing crisis, and call on you to do the following:
1) Declare a state of emergency. As much as any natural disaster, this is a human one that requires all the focus and energy possible of our state government. A declaration of state emergency on your part, as governor, will provide communities with the essential resources, supplies, emergency services and facilities they need without further delay.
Just as we help communities in the aftermath of wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters, we can and should help our border communities during this crisis.
2) Call an immediate emergency special session of the Texas Legislature. In the absence of federal action, local communities need state assistance. The purpose of this session will be to hear from first responders – city and county officials, police, fire, EMS, public health leaders and the faith based organizations – on the challenges they face; assess those needs; and pass emergency appropriations to provide local agencies with the resources they need in order to do their job in protecting local communities and provide appropriate care for these individuals and families.
3) Request additional immigration judges immediately. I agree that this is a federal issue. While I believe it is imperative for the state to act in the short-term, we need the federal government to do its job – including sending more immigration judges to the border. To that end, we should call on the Obama Administration to provide a sufficient number of judges so that those processed by the border patrol will receive an immediate hearing on their immigration requests and, where appropriate, be repatriated to their native country. Given the scale and scope of this emergency, I believe that this is the best approach, rather than releasing these individuals and their families at the local bus station with a hearing set several months in the future. We should vigorously advocate this approach with federal officials.
4) Send the state/local bill to the federal government. We should also sponsor and vigorously support a joint resolution calling for the federal government to pay for any and all emergency funds spent by state and local authorities to address this emergency.
Allow me to reiterate that I agree with border leaders that this is a disaster that requires immediate state action. But, I call on you to not sit by and wait for the federal government to act in order to address the humanitarian needs and the costs of addressing them that local communities are currently bearing. If the federal government does not lead, then we must.
You have my full support to act in the manner described above.
Wendy R. Davis