Wicker: Border Crisis Reflects Lack of Presidential Leadership

Obama Administration, Senate Democrats Ignore Need for Substantive Immigration Reform

August 11, 2014

Like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by the crisis along our country’s southwest border. Since October of last year, more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors have been intercepted while trying to enter the United States illegally, overwhelming U.S. immigration services and facilities. One report indicates that an estimated 90,000 children will attempt to cross the border this year.

No one suggests that these child migrants are undeserving of our sympathy. Many have fled dire circumstances in Central American countries plagued with grinding poverty and ruthless gang violence. But finding a solution to the surge at the U.S.-Mexico border requires an honest look at what is driving tens of thousands of people to break the law. In doing so, we must confront the consequences of the Obama Administration’s misguided immigration policies.

Executive Action Sends the Wrong Signal

There is no question that America’s immigration system is in need of a major overhaul. We cannot ignore the fact that there are more than 11 million people living illegally in the United States today. However, the current situation does not justify unilateral executive action from President Obama, who has pledged to circumvent Congress and “fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own.”

The President’s unauthorized actions have sent the wrong signal to the world that those who arrive in the United States unlawfully can escape enforcement of the law. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is a prime example. Created by the White House in 2012, the program allows young illegal immigrants to apply for temporary amnesty and work rights.

Situation Demands Leadership, Not Blank Check

At a time for leadership and consensus, it is disappointing that President Obama has called for more taxpayer dollars to deal with the border crisis. I am opposed to giving the President a blank check when the situation demands meaningful policy reforms. I do not believe that throwing $2.7 billion at the problem will solve it. We will not stem the tide of illegal immigration until we strengthen border security and change the policies that incentivize families to send their children on a perilous journey to the United States.

Senate Democrats Derail Potential Compromise

For starters, I believe Congress should use the power of the purse to defund the DACA program. I offered an amendment to the Democrats’ spending bill that would do just that. However, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) again refused to allow a debate and up-or-down votes on Republican proposals. If senators had been allowed to offer amendments to improve the bill, perhaps bipartisan consensus could have emerged. Once again, the Majority Leader succeeded in shielding Senate Democrats from difficult votes in an election year.

Another piece of legislation, the “Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act,” would strengthen, streamline, and expedite the legal process for unaccompanied minors at the border. Introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the bill would improve a 2008 anti-trafficking law by ensuring that children from Central America receive the same treatment as those from Mexico. I am a cosponsor of this legislation because it would serve as a starting point for real reform, rather than a temporary fix.

A crisis of this magnitude demands that both political parties work together toward a lasting solution. Congress and the President have a responsibility to address the nation’s broken immigration system with effective policy changes that make judicious use of taxpayer dollars.