AUSTIN -- Waving to honking motorists from a street corner in downtown Fredericksburg, Sen. Ted Cruz was greeted like a returning conqueror Saturday.
To supporters, he's the man who's taken on the Washington establishment and an administration he sums up in one word: "Lawless." Cruz says the crisis of Central American children being smuggled into the U.S. by violent cartels is one example.
"It is horrific," Cruz said in an interview with KVUE Saturday at the National Museum of the Pacific War. "The humane answer is to stop the pattern of lawlessness, of amnesty, of refusing to secure our border that is causing so many children to be subject to such horrific abuse."
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve a $3.7 billion supplemental appropriation to address the crisis. Meeting with Gov. Rick Perry the same day in Dallas, the president said he agreed with many of the governor's recommendations for dealing with the problem, and asked the Texas Republican for help rustling up support for the budget measure.
"The president talks a good game, but actions speak louder than words," said Cruz. "He came to Texas and he did two fundraisers with Democratic party fat cats and yet he had no time to go down to the border. He had no time to visit the little girls and little boys who are being housed here, who are paying the price for the failures of the Obama administration immigration policy."
Cruz, who toured a holding facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in June, argues the president's $3.7 billion request fails to address the policies he believes are the root cause of the problem.
"Less than five percent of it goes to border security," said Cruz, who suggests the bill does too little to increase the number of "boots on the ground" devoted to securing the US-Mexico border.
"What this bill is, is a social services bill," said Cruz. "It's an HHS bill for social services that simply assumes we'll continue to have tens of thousands of kids coming and being victimized and abused. The right answer is to fix the problem."
Asked how the government can be expected to care for the tens of thousands of children awaiting mandatory legal hearings without increased resources, Cruz pointed to the law requiring those hearings. Signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act requires children smuggled from noncontiguous countries to be given the chance to make their case before an immigration judge and have access to legal representation. Cruz says the backlog of cases and ballooning wait times has been an unintended side effect of the law, which should be changed to expedite the hearing and removal process.
Cruz also lays the blame on the president's 2012 memo announcing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The order granted limited legal relief to some undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children before June 2007. Qualifying undocumented immigrants are allowed to apply for jobs and remain in the country without fear of deportation for a two-year period, at the end of which time their DACA status can be renewed. The order does not apply to the children currently being smuggled across the border, but Cruz and other Republicans have argued it it has nonetheless created the impression children who come to the U.S. illegally will be allowed to stay.
"The only way to stop these children from coming in is for us to enforce the laws and for us to humanely, and compassionately, but expeditiously reunite them with their families back home," said Cruz.
The $3.7 billion request includes money for more courtroom personnel, $1.8 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services to care for children in custody, $1.1 billion to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing and removal of migrants and $432 million for Customs and Border Protection.
"Almost all of the funding goes to things other than border security, and notably the president does nothing to address the underlying problem. He does nothing to address the lawlessness and amnesty that caused this problem. He does nothing to address the bureaucratic delays that are mandated for these children," said Cruz. Underscoring the dangers faced by children in the hands of traffickers, Cruz related reports from Lackland personnel of children arriving tortured and maimed. Cruz says his own sources indicate that 100 percent of the children landing in federal custody have been victims of some form of assault.
"This is what amnesty looks like," said Cruz. "We will not solve this problem unless and until the president stops promising amnesty and the president begins to be willing to enforce the laws and secure the borders. That's the only way to solve this problem."
Customs and Border Protection unveiled a million dollar advertising campaign this month warning Central American parents of the dangers of human trafficking and assuring them their children would not be allowed to stay, but Cruz says the
"An ad campaign designed to deceive people is not going to be effective. That has been the administration's pattern for five and a half years," said Cruz, who pointed to promises made by the administration concerning the economic stimulus, the Affordable Care Act
"The president describes it as a border security request. Once again, it's the same game of bait and switch. Less than five percent of the money is for border security, yet he's labeling it something that's false," said Cruz. "So yes, the administration is running some ads or saying they're going to run ads in Central America saying, 'You will not be granted amnesty.' The problem is the facts are different."
Cruz argues the ad's message is countermined by DACA, the administration's support for bipartisan immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate and the administration's hesitance to indicate how many children will be sent home. The son of an immigrant who fled imprisonment in torture and Cuba, Cruz suggests the border can be secured and the legal immigration system can be improved and streamlined with bipartisan support.
"He came with $100 sewn into his underwear seeking freedom, but he came legally, following the rules," said Cruz. "Part of the reason so many millions have come from all over the world to America is they want to live in a nation that respects rule of law."
"I certainly hope that we can reach some bipartisan compromise on this," Cruz said. "We need to fix this problem. We need to address this humanitarian crisis. I will say it is not facilitated when the president announces his legislation which doesn't address the problem and then stands up and insults and harangues anyone who disagrees with it, rather than sitting down and working together to address this problem."
After meeting together privately, Obama and Perry discussed the crisis Wednesday with Dallas officials and religious leaders. Over the weekend, Perry told Fox News host Brit Hume he would not encourage the Texas delegation to back the president's proposal. On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) announced their intent to file a bipartisan measure titled the Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency (HUMANE) Act.
"The border region in Texas has been overwhelmed over the past few months by a deluge of undocumented immigrants from Central America," Cuellar said in an accompanying statement. "Today's legislation strengthens current law protecting unaccompanied children and responds to the crisis while supporting the men and women of Border Patrol. 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."
"Today Congressman Cuellar and I are proposing a solution to the current crisis on our border," Cornyn said. "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."
According to a press release from Cornyn's office Monday, the legislation aims to:
- "Improve the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008—treating all unaccompanied migrant children crossing our border with equality under the law, and allowing 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 7 days of the completion of Health and Human Services screening under the TVPRA of 2008. It 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.
- Require immigration judges to make a determination as to whether an unaccompanied migrant child is eligible to remain in the United States within 72 hours of making their claim. Children who succeed in their claim will be allowed to remain in the United States in the custody of a sponsor while they pursue their legal remedies. Children who do not successfully make such a claim will be reunited with family in their home country.
- 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 these 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 any person taking custody of an unaccompanied alien child. Prohibits the Secretary from releasing children 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."