If the president came to see the disastrous effects of Washington’s policy in person, he might want to act.
In 2012, I alerted the federal government to the growing problem of unaccompanied minors making the treacherous journey across Mexico to reach the United States. At that point the minors could annually be numbered in the hundreds or thousands.
In recent months, tens of thousands of children have come across the border and are now housed in federal facilities across the U.S., the result of failed federal policies and Washington’s indifference to securing the border.
I visited one of these facilities in June and saw these children, frightened and alone, who left their homes and families, survived a harrowing trip, and are now facing an unknown future. It was staggering to realize that this humanitarian crisis is not the result of a natural disaster, but of our nation’s own misguided laws and misplaced priorities. It’s nothing less than a moral outrage.
President Obama last week proposed $3.7 billion in spending to deal with the continuing crisis. But only a small fraction of that money would go to the actual core of this problem: the lack of sufficient resources to secure the border. The majority of the billions he proposes to spend—including on housing and transporting the minors around the country—is treating the symptoms of the problem instead of addressing its root cause.
When I met with President Obama last Wednesday to discuss this crisis, I reminded him that securing the border is not only one of the core responsibilities of the federal government, it’s also an attainable goal.
I made clear that this is not just Texas’ problem. The effects of a porous border are felt everywhere. In the case of the children, many will ultimately be released on the condition that they appear—after waiting many months or even years—for a hearing to determine whether they should be deported. Experience shows that many simply won’t show up, vanishing into cities across the country.
The porous border also leads to increased crime, a stronger drug trade and the specter of international terror. There have been numerous instances of illegal border crossing by people from countries with ties to terrorism, including Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Albania.
This has been a concern in my state for many years, which is why Texas has stepped in where the federal government hasn’t. Since 2005, Texas has spent more than $500 million to fill the significant gaps in federal efforts to secure the border. We have deployed airplanes and helicopters, watercraft and Ranger Recon surveillance teams to quickly respond in remote areas of the border region where illegal activity is expected.
We were doing that even before the federal Border Patrol was overwhelmed by the current crisis. Since we know that transnational gangs and drug cartels are always looking for opportunities to take advantage of diversions, last month Texas committed additional spending of $1.3 million a week to expand law-enforcement operations in the region.
But all of these are stopgap measures. Securing the border is a national responsibility, even if it hasn’t been taken seriously in Washington for far too long.
As I told the president, the first step is granting my long-standing request to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border to supplement security efforts until a sufficient number of Border Patrol officers are hired, trained and deployed.
The president needs to direct the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to monitor suspected illegal activity along the border and track those responsible. He also needs to work with Congress to revisit and modify existing laws, including a 2008 law that unintentionally makes it harder to deport individuals from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Such laws serve as magnets for illegal immigrants, who are hearing that if they or their children make it to the U.S. they can stay indefinitely, without consequence.
There also has to be an increased federal emphasis on diplomatic efforts. We need to put pressure on the countries where these children are coming from, such as Honduras and El Salvador, as well as on the Mexican government, which is reportedly implementing new laws to track but not stop the flow of children through its country. Mexico would be better served securing its own southern borders than making it easier for children to travel alone through dangerous territory.
Everyone feels sympathy for the children housed in detention centers. But there is nothing compassionate about policies that encourage more young children to leave their families and travel to a foreign land. They are in extreme danger on every step of the journey, clinging to the tops and sides of trains and at the mercy of human smugglers. Letting them stay means that far more will follow.
While it’s encouraging that President Obama says we’re all philosophically on the same page in our concern for the children’s well-being, we need to see action, and soon, to solve this crisis and avert further ones. It’s also far past time for him to see the effects of Washington’s disastrous policies firsthand. He should visit the border and the overcrowded detention centers, then maybe the urgent need to act will become clear.
It is every bit as important for President Obama to show leadership with Congress, persuading lawmakers to go beyond addressing the current humanitarian crisis and finally close down the revolving door that is our southern border. I suggest that he meet with members of the Texas delegation, from both parties, who have firsthand knowledge of the challenges a border state faces, and the best ways to solve them.
The people contemplating sending their children on a perilous journey to America must know that our border is secure and that endangering their lives will not be rewarded.
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Mr. Perry, a Republican, is the governor of Texas. This article was published at the Wall Street Journal.