MCALLEN – Just a mile or so from the Mexican border Thursday sat a dozen members of U.S. Congress as they considered options on how to handle the surge of unaccompanied children entering the country illegally.
"This is an opportunity for us as Americans to deal with an issue the world is watching,” said Gov. Rick Perry.
He provided the main testimony for the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee field hearing.
Perry reiterated his call for 1,000 National Guard soldiers on the border until the 3,000 new Customs and Border Protection agents could be trained.
While Perry said he’s “tired of finger pointing” and assigning blame, he assailed the Obama administration for not adequately securing the border.
“The border is less secure now than at any time in the recent past,” he added.
Perry also bragged that during his 14 years as governor he helped provide $500 million in funding for the Texas Department of Public Safety to conduct its own border security. Perry told the dozen committee members that he wanted the federal government to reimburse Texas.
But, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston, said it’s untrue to characterize the federal response as unsuccessful. This year in South Texas alone, the congresswoman said 115,000 people were deported.
“Everyone in Border Patrol leadership I’ve spoken with over the last three days says we are safer now than we were before,” Rep. Jackson Lee told the governor.
But, Perry revealed something no one on the committee seemed to know. Border Patrol robs Texas of resources, the governor explained. In California, Arizona and New Mexico, there are 17 Border Patrol agents per mile of U.S. border. In Texas, he said, there are only seven per mile.
The field hearing’s main purpose was supposed to discuss the surge of unaccompanied children. That often got muddled in border security issues.
Last year, often taking buses, riding trains and following others trying to reach the Rio Grande, 24,000 mostly Central American children arrived in the U.S. without parents. Along the way, many become victims of crime.
So far this year, Border Patrol reports that number has more than doubled to 52,000. And next year, sent by parents in hopes of reuniting with families in the U.S. or for hopes of a safer existence, about 150,000 are expected to make the dangerous trip.
When the children cross the Rio Grande rover into Texas, they don’t dodge Border Patrol.
Instead, they look for them to surrender.
The testiest exchange of Thursday’s hearing came between Perry and U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democratic California congressman.
"This is not a matter of catching them," Swalwell said. "These children are running in to open arms."
Perry and Swalwell talked over each other with the governor turning the tables and asking the congressman questions.
Some suggested hiring more immigration judges and holding deportation hearings faster. But, no clear solutions emerged.
“The kids will not be better off by staying here,” Perry said.
“These are the most orderly behaved children who want an opportunity to be free from the murderous conditions in which they flee,” Jackson Lee said. “A massive deportation policy is not a humane thing to do.”
A priest testified that how we treat the children is a reflection of our laws and our values. Both sides agreed that the world is watching.