WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers will weigh in on border enforcement and immigration reform when they return to work this week after an Independence Day recess. A stream of undocumented minors arriving on America’s southern border, along with President Barack Obama’s pledge to alter immigration enforcement through executive order, have sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill.
With an estimated 11-12 million foreign nationals living illegally in the United States, and a crush of underage would-be immigrants arriving daily, Republican lawmakers like Senator Jeff Sessions are pinning the blame on the Obama administration.
“The sad reality of lax enforcement, plus the lack of a clear message is what is driving the surge. The reality is, if you get into the country today, you are not being deported. That is true!” – said Sessions.
But America’s immigration challenges cannot be solved through law enforcement alone, according to Democratic Senator Harry Reid.
“Eleven million people. We cannot fiscally [afford to] deport 11 million people. We cannot physically do it. It will not work,” said Reid.
A comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide an arduous path to citizenship for the undocumented and boost border enforcement passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now, President Obama is asking Congress for additional funds to speed the processing and deportation of new arrivals from mostly-Central American nations.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske notes U.S. law treats non-Mexican arrivals as refugees, not illegal immigrants.
“These are not gang members. These are not dangerous individuals,” said Kerlikowske, speaking on ABC’s This Week program.
At the same time, high-ranking U.S. officials have gone to Central America with a simple message: do not send children to the United States. That message is too little too late, according to Republican Senator John Cornyn.
“Unless we send a clear message that our border is being enforced and our laws are being upheld, we will continue to face crisis after crisis after crisis. Meanwhile, untold numbers of migrants will continue suffering and dying in Central America and Mexico, just trying to get here. Or get here, showing up on our doorstep, and overwhelming our capacity to deal with them in a responsible way,” said Cornyn.
Hopes Congress would enact a long-term fix to America’s immigration woes died when House Speaker John Boehner ruled out a vote for the remainder of the year. Last week, President Obama pledged to do what he can on his own through executive authority.