WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of Henry Cuellar) – Last week, Congressman Henry Cuellar sent a letter to President Obama requesting a meeting with himself and other Members of Congress to discuss what policy changes and funding needs are necessary to resolve the humanitarian crisis at the border.
“It is time for us to put partisan politics aside, lead on this issue, and find solutions that are acceptable to both sides of the aisle,” said Congressman Cuellar. “Doing nothing is not an option. It’s simple: a fast, fair process that brings children home to their families sooner rather than later is vital. I urge the President to meet with myself and other Members of Congress to discuss commonsense solutions to the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the southern border.”
The full text of Congressman Cuellar’s letter is below and attached.
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
August 8, 2014
Dear President Obama:
With the humanitarian crisis that is ongoing on our southern border, it is imperative that we work together to a find common sense solution to both care for the undocumented immigrants who have arrived in our country and deter others from making the same dangerous journey. Congress, along with the administration, must work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact legislation to provide funding and policy changes to address this humanitarian crisis at the border.
In June of 2014, you sent a letter stating that your administration felt changes to the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) would be one potential step in stemming the flow of the unaccompanied alien children (UACs) into the United States (see attachment 1). High ranking members of your administration that include Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson made a similar recommendation (see attachment 2).
In July of 2014, Senator Cornyn and I drafted a bipartisan bill to address this issue which improves the TVPRA of 2008—treating all unaccompanied immigrant children crossing our southern border with equality under the law, allowing for voluntary reunification with family, whether they are from Mexico, Central America, or any other country, while maintaining due process and all legal protections. Throughout the process of drafting my legislative proposal to address the loophole created by the 2008 law that smugglers have taken advantage of, I reached out to my Democratic colleagues in opposition to sit down with me and provide their input so that we could come up with a solution. To this day I have yet to hear anyone offer one.
A short time later after your June 2014 letter, your administration reversed its stance on changing the 2008 TVPRA, as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated, “First, as it relates to language where you ended up, it is correct that almost a month ago -- I think even more than a month ago now -- the administration did put forward a specific request for Congress to take action in granting additional authority that could be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to incorporate some flexibility in enforcing the law so that we could actually do a better job of enforcing that law more efficiently. The language that has been put forward by Senator Cornyn and Congressman Cuellar doesn’t -- it actually undermines the desire for more flexibility” (see attachment 3). On July 30, 2014, the White House Office of Legislative Affairs issued a statement that they recommend you veto H.R. 5230. While not a perfect bill, at that time H.R. 5230 included the language from the bi-partisan legislation that Senator Cornyn and I introduced that would have provided funding to address the crisis and made commonsense policy changes.
Shifts in the conversation about how to address this crisis have had a real impact on the success of any solution being considered and agreed upon. As the Washington Post Editorial Board noted on August 5, 2014, “Mr. Obama’s own vacillations have not helped cope with the crisis. He was right to identify a 2008 anti-trafficking law as a key source of the problem. Inadvertently, that law has encouraged thousands of Central American children to try to reach the United States by granting them access to immigration courts that Mexican kids don’t enjoy; the effect has been months-long backups in the courts. Initially, the president said he would propose changes to the law to hasten deportations. Faced with opposition from Democrats, he backed down days later” (see attachment 4).
Since June 2014 many Democrats have expressed their support for making changes to the 2008 law including:
-June 30th –President Obama stated in his June 30th letter to Congress “providing the DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children from non-contiguous countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.” (see attachment 1)
-July 7th White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated “Well, no, Jon, what’s important is the difference between 2008 and the more recent statistics that you’re citing is the passage of that law by Congress in 2008 that was signed into law by the previous President. And what that law mandated was a difference in the way that children who arrive in this country from non-contiguous countries are treated in the immigration system.
So the numbers that you cite reflect, or at least are the consequence of this administration’s consistent commitment for enforcing the law. What we are seeking is greater authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise some discretion that would allow him to make that process more efficient, and in some cases more quickly and promptly remove some children from this country if it is found that they don’t have -- that they don’t qualify for humanitarian relief.
So understanding those numbers that were presented in the Times this morning requires someone to take into account what the enforcement of the law requires. And what that law required was a longer process for adjudicating the cases of these children from non-contiguous countries. (see attachment 5)
- July 19th Sen. Tom Carper (D) said the funding and the policy changes should move together. “I think they go together,” he said. (see attachment 6 )
- July 19th “I’m interested in seeing some of the other proposals around policy changes. I do think there may be some things we can change that help expedite proceedings for some of the people who are here,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), who is in the midst of a competitive race in New Hampshire. “It seems to me we ought to be able to find some middle ground here that everybody can agree to.” (see attachment 6)
- July 19th Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), another Democratic centrist, said, “I think we should have the same law on the books for Central America as we have for Canada and Mexico.” (see attachment 6 )
-July 22nd – According to The Hill,“ Secretary Johnson also reiterated that the administration is seeking changes to a 2008 human trafficking law to ease the processing of some child immigrants, despite some Democratic gripes… “We’ve asked ... for a change in law and we’re in active discussions with Congress right now about doing that,” he said.” (see attachment 2)
-July 24th -Hillary Clinton said that she was open to changing a 2008 trafficking law to help the administration deal with an influx of child migrants crossing the border illegally. "I think it should be looked at as part of an overall package," Clinton said on NPR's "On Point.” (see attachment 7)
-As of July 30th Representatives Ron Barber, Collin Peterson and Dan Lipinski have signed onto my bipartisan legislation H.R. 5114 the HUMANE Act.
Mr. President, making a change to the TVPRA will only address about 20% (UACs) of the problem of the individuals crossing at the southern border (see attachment 8). Family units and adults make up the other 80% crossing the southern border. The reason we need to find a solution is because up until this point the focus has primarily been about UACs, but as you can see undocumented immigration is a much larger problem that will require funding and policy changes.
I am committed to finding a bipartisan solution. I am writing this letter to urge you to meet with myself and other members of Congress to discuss what policy changes and funding needs are necessary to resolve this crisis. It is time for us to put partisan politics aside, lead on this issue, and find solutions that are acceptable to both sides of the aisle. Doing nothing is not an option.
28th District of Texas