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Bi-partisan HUMANE Act would alleviate border crisis

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pictured: Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, left, and Senator John Cornyn have introduced a bipartisan bill to reform current law and alleviate an ongoing humanitarian crisis on Texas' southern border

Last week's Bandera County Courier published an article about Senator John Cornyn's take on President Barack Obama's seeming non-reaction to the border crisis in Texas and other western states. More than 55,000 illegal unaccompanied minors, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, have crossed the border since October 2013, swamping detention facilities in McAllen and Brownsville.
In response, Cornyn, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, and US Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo and a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, have introduced the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act. This legislation is designed to reform current law and solve the ongoing humanitarian crisis on Texas' southern border.
"Congressman Cuellar and I are proposing a common sense solution to the current crisis on our border," said Cornyn. "Our proposal would improve the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, treating all unaccompanied minors equally and ensuring due process under the law in a timely, fair manner."
He said that Mexican cartels had created a "business model" by exploiting loopholes in the law, enabling the cartels to smuggle commodities, including drugs, guns and people, into the United States. "As it is today, the situation is not humane or compassionate," Cornyn said. "The smugglers subject the children to rape, kidnapping, ransom demands and even murder. It would be more humane to provide a deterrent to the smuggling."
Cuellar agreed. "The border region in Texas has been overwhelmed over the past few months by a deluge of undocumented immigrants from Central America," he said. "This legislation strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of the Border Patrol."
Cuellar continued, "I would like to thank Senator John Cornyn for partnering with me on this legislation and I ask my colleagues in the House and Senate to act quickly on this bill."
"We want to ... work with the president, work across the aisle and try to find a solution," Cornyn said. "It's going to get worse unless we solve this problem." He added, "While not a comprehensive solution, the HUMANE Act is a bi-camaral, bipartisan attempt to solve a real problem."
The HUMANE Act would:
• Improve the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 - treating all unaccompanied migrant children crossing the border with equality under the law. It would also allow for voluntary reunification with family, whether they are from Mexico, Central America or any other country.
• Keep current protections for safe repatriation.
• Allow unaccompanied migrant children, who have a claim to remain legally in the United States, to make this claim in court before an immigration judge within seven days of the completion of Health and Human Services screening under the TVPRA of 2008. It also authorizes up to 40 new immigration judges for this purpose, and keeps current law in place requiring HHS to make all efforts to secure pro-bono legal counsel for the child.
"The initial screening would be completed by the border patrol as it is currently done," Cornyn said, adding that the process would be streamlined.
• Require immigration judges to make a determination as to whether an unaccompanied migrant child is eligible to remain in the US within 72 hours of making their claim. Children who succeed in their claims will be allowed to remain in the US in the custody of a sponsor while they pursue legal remedies. Children who do not successfully make such a claim will be reunited with family in their home country.
"No one will be denied an opportunity to make claims as provided for in the existing law," Cornyn said. "However, only a very small percentage of the minors will be able to present a credible claim of persecution."
As he explained, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 provided for children being transported across the border for involuntary servitude and sexual slavery. "If parents pay to have a child smuggled across the border to end up living with a relative, that is not trafficking," Cornyn said.
• Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide unaccompanied migrant children with protective shelter while they are awaiting their initial hearing in court before a judge.
• Allow access to expedited court hearings for unaccompanied migrant children who have already been released to sponsors with notices to appear in immigration court.
• Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct FBI fingerprint background checks on anyone taking custody of an unaccompanied alien child. It would prohibit children to be released to persons convicted of sex offenses and human trafficking.
• Require a plan and provide for additional resources necessary for operational control of our southern border.
"We have support for the HUMANE Act. There is no reason why it can't be done within the next few weeks if we work together," Cornyn said. "The president is unable to send us a solution other than asking for money."