Republicans who spoke in favor of a GOP immigration bill on the House floor Thursday said that doing nothing at all to address the crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America who are fleeing to the U.S., in many cases to escape sexual violence, was the worst possible outcome.
“Doing nothing is not an option,’’ said Kay Granger (R-Tex.)
“It’s plain that something must be done,’’ said Harold Rogers (R-Ky.)
Surely the most convincing of them, though, was Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a moderate, who’s has been a supporter of LGBT kids. “Here’s what’s going to happen if we do nothing’’ about the crisis at the border, Dent warned: Some of those kids will move into his district and settle there, often with their own parents, who were already living there. Scary, right?
House Republicans will meet Friday morning, delaying a planned recess as they try to plot a path forward on a border security bill, according to GOP sources. The original legislation was pulled from the floor Thursday in a chaotic afternoon.
A group of conservatives joined Democrats in opposing the bill, though for very different reasons. The measure would have changed an ’08 anti-trafficking law in a way that sent Central Americans back home as quickly as Mexicans are deported. But just before the bill was supposed to come to a vote, House leaders pulled it from the schedule.
Maybe debating immigration legislation that was probably never going to become law anyway, while the Democrats control both the Senate and the veto pen, was not the most productive way for the GOP-led House to spend its last day in town before lawmakers flew away for the rest of the summer. A “tirade against these poor children” is how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized it.
But if so, it was a clarifying tirade, and you do have to give Dent credit for speaking the truth about the situation. He spoke of meeting a 5-year-old girl who’d made the harrowing journey, and then in the next breath somehow concluded that sending her right back “is the compassionate thing to do.”
But in the scenario he himself laid out — of parents already here in the United States whose kids in Central America had risked their lives to join them, because violence has gotten so much worse there — compassionate for whom?
“I can’t imagine the desperation these families must feel,” Dent said, to have allowed their children to make that trip. And that, too, was clearly true.
House Democrats lined up at the microphone to enter a whole catalog of horror stories into the record — of a 17-year-old and her baby who’d been sexually abused by the child’s father. Of a 12-year-old sex-trafficking victim and her baby.
“Some of them are sexually abused, and mistreated in other ways” too, said Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.)
“We’re sending kids who’ve been sex-trafficked back!” said Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
Republicans did not disagree on that point: Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said, “These children are being sexually molested and killed along the way.” And Rep. Steve Stockman tweeted that “70 percent of kids crossing border illegally were raped.” Okay, maybe you don’t want to take Stockman’s word for it; he also tweeted Thursday that “Any border package bill that doesn’t defund @BarackObama’s #amnesty is a #CrapChimichanga.”
But advocates for immigrants do say that many of the young women and girls coming here from Central America are making the trip to escape sexual violence in their home countries: “What we’re seeing is young women being targeted by the gangs,” said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the Chicago-based National Immigration Justice Center. “They’re sexually assaulted or raped to force them into the gangs, so it’s a gender violence issue. That’s why we’re seeing so many more girls, and especially younger girls.”
The Pew Research Center has looked at the demographics of those arriving and found that the number of girls traveling alone is way up: Those “under 18 caught at the U.S.-Mexico border has jumped 77% so far this fiscal year. ... Although there are far more boys than girls apprehended at the border, the number of boys has grown more slowly, by just 8% during the same period. Among those 12 and younger, the number of girls apprehended has grown even faster, increasing 140% over the last fiscal year, compared with a 100% increase among boys. “
Yet, incredibly, Republicans and President Obama have been arguing that a return trip to hell is the only way to keep many more Central American victims of violence from coming here.
Many members of the GOP argued Thursday that Obama had either created or exacerbated the crisis by encouraging illegal immigration, then turned around and cited him approvingly as agreeing that they have to go back to deter others from making the trip. In the president’s view,’’ said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), “most of these children will be returned” anyway.
The conservative Republicans who opposed the bill felt it didn’t do enough to strengthen border security, though that’s not an issue where the kids coming here are concerned.
“We don’t need the National Guard; we need the Red Cross,’’ said Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) “They’re not sneaking across the border; they’re saying, ‘Help me! Help me!’ ’’
Sending them back asap, Farr argued, would be like answering your front door and seeing a kid there who tells you there are people being killed and raped at his house — and your response is, “What’s your address? I’ll drive you home.”