McCain: Surge in unaccompanied minors fault of Obama, Congress
The steady flow of unaccompanied minors from Central America is a "crisis of enormous proportions" that can be laid at the feet of Congress and President Barack Obama, said U.S. Sen. John McCain on Friday after a tour of the Nogales Border Patrol station where around 900 unaccompanied minors are detained.
McCain praised Border Patrol agents working at the facility, saying that the children were well-cared for and were inside "watching the World Cup."
"They're being well-treated here," said the Republican senator, "but the fact is we're running out of room for the thousands of them."
McCain added that some will be moved to a U.S. Army base in Washington state because of "unacceptable overcrowding."
Federal officials have already sent children to Fort Sill, Okla., Naval Base Ventura County, near Oxnard, Calif., expanding an effort that began with Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio.
McCain also pushed for the White House to pressure Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to staunch the outward flow of unaccompanied minors.
At least 47,000 children have already come to the United States and administration officials have estimated that by the end of the summer that number could reach 70,000.
McCain said that he, along U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, have asked Obama to "send an urgent message" to people in Central America.
"If you come to this country illegally, no matter who you are, you will not be able to stay," he said. "That has to be the message because the message is if you get here, you can stay. Until we give an immediate consequence to people who are here illegally, people will try to come and others will exploit them."
The president, McCain said, had "articulated a policy which basically said if you were under 18 you here you can stay here."
McCain also blamed the summer's surge of the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The Senate's version of the bill included $8 billion for fencing, $3.2 billion for surveillance systems, and would have doubled the size of the Border Patrol. The bill passed the Senate, but languished in the House where two alternative bills also failed to pass.
"I believe if we had passed immigration reform," McCain said. "I think this situation would not be what it is."
He also argued that Mexico was responsible, not only for enforcement along the border with the U.S., but also along the southern border Mexico shares with Guatemala.
Friday, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Guatemala and met with officials from Mexico and Central America about stopping the flow of migrants, as well as dealing with a flow of misinformation created by smugglers about what migrants should expect once they've crossed into the U.S., said Cecilia Munoz, the White House director of domestic policy on a call with reporters.
According to the New York Times, Biden also announced that the U.S. would create a $255 million fund to assist in repatriation for Central America, including money for criminal prosecution of gang members, and new youth programs.
This effort is a follow-up to an announcement last week that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was in contact with officials from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico about accelerated repatriation of those who have recently entered the U.S. illegally.
"Those apprehended at our border are priorities for removal," Johnson said. "They are priorities for enforcement of our immigration laws regardless of age."
Administration officials are already sending additional immigration judges and immigration officers to the Rio Grande Valley, but McCain called for increased additional bed-spaces for people in detention, increased monitoring for people ordered in immigration proceedings, and assurances that people ordered to be deported are actually sent home.
Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva announced he will again attempt to tour the station with five faith leaders from Tucson and Nogales on Saturday at noon.
Grijalva attempted the same tour on Monday, but was turned away.