The Border Surge: Is It a ‘Crisis’ or Not?

Border Patrol agents take undocumented immigrants into custody on July 21, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. Thousands of immigrants, many of them minors from Central America, have crossed illegally into the United States this year, causing an unprecentented humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. Texas Governor Rick Perry announced that he will send 1,000 National Guard troops to help stem the flow.
National Journal
Billy House Rachel Roubein
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Billy House Rachel Roubein
July 22, 2014, 5:38 p.m.

Cap­it­ol Hill is fiercely di­vided over how to handle the surge of tens of thou­sands of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors from Cent­ral Amer­ica to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, but at least every­one can agree on one thing: It’s a crisis.

Or maybe not.

Re­pub­lic­ans are on a mixed-mes­saging binge over how best to de­scribe the buildup at the bor­der. Per­haps it’s an “emer­gency.” Or maybe Con­gress “ought to slow down,” as one key Re­pub­lic­an law­maker put it this week. It de­pends on whom you ask.

Some, in­clud­ing House Speak­er John Boehner, don’t mince words. Pres­id­ent Obama’s lack of lead­er­ship, Boehner said Tues­day, is jeop­ard­iz­ing ef­forts “to find com­mon ground and help the kids who are caught in the middle of this crisis.”

Sen. John Mc­Cain, whose home state of Ari­zona sits on the front line, says it’s both “a crisis” and “an emer­gency.” And out­side of Con­gress, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he is de­ploy­ing up to 1,000 Na­tion­al Guard troops over the next month to the Mex­ic­an bor­der.

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans are sound­ing more like crisis den­iers””though they stop short of say­ing that, ex­actly.

For in­stance, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­o­lina said Tues­day that he wouldn’t call the wave of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors from El Sal­vador, Guatem­ala, and Hon­dur­as an emer­gency””not just yet.

“You’ve got a hu­man­it­ari­an prob­lem on the bor­der,” said Gra­ham, who like Mc­Cain is a mem­ber of the bi­par­tis­an so-called Gang of Eight that worked on an im­mig­ra­tion-re­form bill last year. “I don’t know if it’s a crisis yet. I worry about you don’t want to have chil­dren put in poor con­di­tions. But at the end of the day, I want to ad­dress why the chil­dren have come.”

So, what is really go­ing on here?

On one hand, many Re­pub­lic­ans want to main­tain a nar­rat­ive that what’s hap­pen­ing on the bor­der is in­deed a crisis””in part so they can blame Obama for what they see as his anti-bor­der-en­force­ment policies.

Re­pub­lic­ans are us­ing the events on the bor­der to ap­peal for ma­jor changes to the de­port­a­tion sys­tem, such as speed­ing up the de­port­a­tion pro­cesses for such minors from the one that now ex­ists un­der a 2008 anti-traf­fick­ing law.

And they’re us­ing Obama as a scape­goat on their way to push­ing for oth­er changes, even if they do not dir­ectly re­late to the cur­rent in­flux of young mi­grants””such as block­ing fund­ing for an ini­ti­at­ive to give un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants work per­mits (the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram, or DACA).

“You’re not go­ing to get any Re­pub­lic­an to ap­pro­pri­ate any large amounts of money un­til there’s some struc­tur­al changes,” Gra­ham said.

But then, if it’s really a crisis, these law­makers might have to ac­tu­ally agree and go along with fund­ing a solu­tion, and many of them don’t want to do that. So, some are locked in sort of an in-between, nev­er-nev­er-land state of banter.

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee, on Monday took to the Sen­ate floor to ques­tion the ur­gency of re­spond­ing right away to Obama’s pro­posed $3.7 bil­lion emer­gency fund­ing plan to ad­dress what’s hap­pen­ing on the bor­der.

As am­muni­tion, Ses­sions poin­ted to a new Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice ana­lys­is that found just $25 mil­lion of the money Obama is re­quest­ing will ac­tu­ally be spent this sum­mer””or in this fisc­al year (which ends Sept. 30). Ses­sion said that “in­dic­ates clearly that the agen­cies are not in dire need of sup­ple­ment­al fund­ing from this Con­gress, cer­tainly not to the de­gree asked for.”

Ses­sions did ac­know­ledge that “we want to treat chil­dren and be help­ful and treat them in a hu­man­it­ari­an way and a com­pas­sion­ate way.”

But he said CBO shows that there is no basis for the amount of emer­gency spend­ing that Obama is ask­ing for, and that law­makers “ought to slow down” in ap­prov­ing emer­gency fund­ing. “We are already in debt. To spend $4 bil­lion more is to bor­row every penny of it, and we should not do that un­til we find out more about what is hap­pen­ing at our bor­der,” Ses­sions said.

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans say they already know that what’s hap­pen­ing at the bor­der is a crisis and an emer­gency””and they say they also know who’s to blame for it.

“The Amer­ic­an people must un­der­stand that this surge in il­leg­als com­ing across our bor­der is a pres­id­en­tial-caused crisis,” said Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

King made that com­ment in an­noun­cing last week that he and more than 20 oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans were in­tro­du­cing a res­ol­u­tion to al­low bor­der-state gov­ernors like Perry to de­ploy their Na­tion­al Guard units im­me­di­ately to seal the bor­der. Pay­ing for that should be the only sup­ple­ment­al ap­pro­pri­ations the House should be con­sid­er­ing, he said.

King ad­ded, “The pres­id­ent’s law­less ac­tions such as DACA have caused this night­mare.”

“It’s both a crisis and an emer­gency, but it’s a gov­ern­ment-made,” Mc­Cain said. “It’s not like [a] hur­ricane or an earth­quake. It’s be­cause of the fail­ure of Obama’s policies.”

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