Menendez Floor Statement on Refugee Crisis at the Border

Menendez Floor Statement on Refugee Crisis at the Border

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, on the Senate floor on the President's Supplemental Appropriation Request to address the ongoing refugee crisis on the border and Republicans' futile attempts at politicizing the issue.

"We are here today to address a refugee crisis in America. I never thought I would have to use those words on the floor of the Senate, but there is no other way to describe what is happening on our Southern Border.

"What is happening in Central America - the violence, the kidnappings, and failure of the rule of law - is the root cause of the problem and is threatening tens of thousands of families, thousands and thousands of children.

"It is causing a humanitarian and refugee crisis that simply is unacceptable; unacceptable in America and unacceptable in our hemisphere.

"Let's be clear, it's being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure. It is nearly two thousand miles from these countries to the U.S. border. These families are not undertaking this journey lightly.

"My Republican colleagues make it sound as though parents are willingly choosing to risk their children's lives - send them away on a 2,000 mile journey fraught with smuggler's, thieves, child abductors, sex traffickers. As if it is a real choice.

"They are parents - as we are parents - and I, as a parent, cannot imagine making that choice to send them on a perilous journey with no guarantees of survival except out of absolute fear for their lives if they stay.

"To politicize the decision to send a child away as opportunistic and a way to take advantage of American law is as cynical a position as I have ever heard. First of all, no Deferred Action DACA Program would help any of these people. The Immigration reform bill we passed would not help one of these people. They would have had to have been in the country by December 31st, 2011.

"Republicans in the House won't even take a vote on immigration reform. Frankly, my Republican friends can't have it both ways. They can't criticize the President - in fact sue the President - for abusing his executive authority, and at the same time come to this floor and criticize him for a lack of leadership. That is nothing, if not totally and transparently political.

"This is not about a welcome mat, it's a desperate effort on the part of thousands of parents to do what parents instinctively do: Which is do what you must do to protect your child from the threats of violence and death at home - even if that means sending them away.

"Let's be clear, first and foremost, violence and crime are a pandemic that sadly has become part of daily life Central America; in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

"Honduras has the highest per capita murder rate in the world; El Salvador and Guatemala are in the top five.

"Second, more than 80 percent of the illicit drugs coming from South America to the United States travel through Central America. Drug traffickers and local gangs harass and extort local residents, and are able to use their profits to corrupt police, the judicial system, and government institutions.

"Third, rates of poverty and inequality in these countries are sky high, while levels of economic growth and development lag far behind other countries in Latin America.

"The recent report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) found that they majority of the minors that they interviewed here in the U.S. had left their home country out of fear.

"The bottom line is that we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a refugee perspective, an immigration perspective, and a national security perspective. We need to do all we can to stabilize the situation in Central America and stop the flow of children and refugees to our borders.

"After a full year of squandering every conceivable opportunity to pass common sense immigration reform, Speaker Boehner has admitted his party has killed any prospects for reform. Now we have to deal with the political consequences of Republican leadership's obstructionism.

"I fully support the President's efforts to fix some of the most urgent problems facing our nation's broken immigration system, and I look forward to seeing families receive relief from deportation as we continue to advocate for a permanent legislative solution.

"In the meantime, we need to provide emergency funding to deal with this refugee crisis. To begin with, the President's supplemental appropriation request is very tough pro-enforcement legislation.

"By the way, we are not having an enforcement problem, because the reason we know what the number of unaccompanied and accompanied minors are, is because we are catching them at the border and putting them in detention.

"The supplemental includes over 3.7 billion dollars for enforcement, homeland security and other resources. It will provide critical funding to prosecute traffickers who are bringing these kids here. This is what my Republican colleagues have been asking for.

"But let's be clear, we need to keep this supplemental clean and free of riders and authorizing language. If we don't keep it clean then it will never get passed. One person will want to add part of immigration reform, then another. The bottom line is that this body already passed comprehensive immigration reform. We don't need to have that debate on this bill because we've already passed it.

"Republicans are screaming for action. This is emergency funding, and it is as conservative as it gets - focused almost entirely on enforcement. This bill is giving Republicans what they always ask for: more money for border enforcement, especially in the border states.

"We need to provide the President with the money he needs to handle this refugee crisis.

It's what we expect of nations around the world. It's the history of America to treat refugees appropriately and according to international standards.

"Some of these children and families are refugees and some are not. The children who have claims should be able to pursue those claims with a day in court. If they lose, they will be deported. We have a legal system to address this crisis. Let's use it. Let's give the President the resources he needs to enforce it.

"The President's supplemental appropriations request is an essential beginning, but it is my hope the administration will consider my 20 Point Plan to increase aid to Central America and stem the flow of migrants while implementing humane reforms that don't put innocent children in harm's way.

"South of our border, we are seeing unprecedented violence, unprecedented suffering, and unprecedented abuse. This is more than an immigration issue, it's a refugee issue much like we have seen in other parts of the world. And we must stop it!

"It will not be easy. There are no easy answers, no easy fixes, but I for one believe we should muster all the outrage we can to come up with a short-term fix and a long-term solution - and come up with a strategy that does the following:

"First, we need to identify the root causes of this far-reaching refugee problem.

"Second, we have to put pressure on governments in the hemisphere that are not handling crime and violence in their nations in a way that prevents families from sending their children across the border in the first place.

"Third, we need to combat the smuggling and trafficking rings in Central America.

"Fourth, we have to effectively deal with the situation at hand and meet the humanitarian needs of these children no matter what it takes without placing them in jail.

"Fifth, we have to deal with the overriding issues and basic causes from a foreign policy point of view.

"Then we can deal with "join-or-die" gang recruitment and gang threats against children and their families in the hemisphere - in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

"Sixth, we have to do all we can to combat international crime, working with our neighbors, to end the violence, threats, and criminal activity that is destabilizing the region.

"And seven, we need to crack down hard on the explosion of gangs and smugglers forcing families apart and preying on young children.

"As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I am seeing day-after-day violence in so many countries, spreading to so many countries, but I never have seen or thought that I would see refugees from this hemisphere spilling over our borders. We need to act. We have to deal with the immediate crisis at hand as well.

"Asylum claims in the region have skyrocketed by 700 percent in recent years. Current law protects the ability of these children and families to apply for asylum, trafficking protection and other specialized forms of relief.

"While not every child will have a valid claim, it is critically important that every child be given the chance to have due process so that we don't inadvertently return them to death or violence.

"There are better ways to deal with this population than through detention or expedited proceedings that don't reflect due process.

"I'd like the Administration to explore the use of alternatives to detention for families that we want to monitor and ensure show up at their court proceedings. This supplemental appropriations bill should include more money for legal orientation presentation programs and representation of children in court than is currently in the supplemental request.

"While the short-term needs are very pressing, we must also not ignore the long-term importance of shoring up regional security in Central America. Congress should increase funding for CARSI to assist with narcotics interdiction, institutional capacity building and violence prevention.

State and USAID must develop a long-term strategy that includes increased development budgets to support sustainable growth. The Millennium Challenge Corporation should accelerate engagement in the region.

"I also think the State Department should designate a high level coordinator and establish an office to be the focal point for policy formulation and response to humanitarian concerns facing children escaping this region...

"Lastly, State and USAID should work together to establish effective repatriation and reintegration programs for children who are returned to their home countries.

"Let me say that there are no easy answers, but I truly believe immigration reform and addressing the root causes is the answer.

"And convincing our Republican colleagues in the House that if we continue to do nothing there will continue to be trouble on our borders and the refugee problem will only get worse.

"The fact is the Senate-passed bill actually contains important border security measures.

It contains anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking measures, and it contains provisions to address criminal activity. Yet the House Republican leadership cannot bring itself to marginalize the extreme right wing and do what is right and just and fair.

"The bottom line is that we have to attack this problem from an immigration perspective, a foreign policy perspective, a refugee perspective, and a national security perspective.

And we need to do all we can to stabilize the situation in Central America and stem the flow of refugees to our borders, a tragedy that is simply unacceptable.

"We need to do all we can to maximize every effort to fight the criminals, increase development opportunities, provide the kind of economic statecraft that can create jobs, provide relief and give families a chance to fight back economically and politically against those who are causing the violence, the illicit trafficking, the gang and drug violence, and those running the criminal networks in the region.

"I am concerned and I am angry and it's time to fight back, but right now it's time to address the humanitarian crisis on our border."