Senators Grill Johnson Over Influx of Children Crossing Border
The Senate Judiciary Committee on June 11 pressed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson over an alarming number of unaccompanied minors coming over the U.S. border with Mexico.
Some 47,000 children under the age of 17 have crossed the U.S. border without a parent since the beginning of fiscal year 2013, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics posted on its website.
Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called the situation a “humanitarian crisis.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said, “We are seeing a flood of young people and it’s just tragic. It should not be happening.”
The large number of children illegally entering the United States is being caused by the extreme poverty in Central America, Johnson said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there is misinformation being spread south of the border that those who make it into the United States by the end of June will receive a “free pass” to remain here. Sen.
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said many of the children may be coming in search of a parent who has already crossed.
DHS officials have scrambled to address the crisis, with Johnson, under the orders of President Obama, forming a task force led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Housing has been a major problem, with the children being detained at various military facilities in the southwest.
Leahy said those children who are crossing the border are at the mercy of criminal gangs, who may end up selling them into slavery.
Johnson assured the committee that he plans to provide more space and transportation for children in detainment and to safely move them into secure environments. He has asked Congress for $166 million to help pay for the response. The Justice Department last week also announced plans to find legal representation for the children.
“On Sunday, May 11, I traveled to McAllen, Texas, to view the situation and saw the children there first hand — an overwhelming number of whom were under 12 years old,” he said in a prepared statement. “I have taken steps across the department and in coordination with federal partners to immediately address this issue. These efforts build on several years of increased and strengthened coordination.”