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“We Should Be Protecting Children”: Rep. Gutiérrez Supports Funds for Humanitarian Crisis at Border

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President Obama has called for close to $3.7 billion to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the United States-Mexico border where more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained since October. Part of the money will be used to speed up deportations as Republicans say they will only support the plan if it puts more emphasis on immediate repatriation. They want to change a 2008 immigration law — which originally passed with bipartisan support — that would let the United States deport children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as fast as it does those from Mexico. “I think it is shameful that in the Congress of the U.S. we see members of Congress engendering and creating fear of children,” says Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, who supports Obama’s emergency supplemental bill. “We should be protecting children, not creating fear of them.”

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StoryJul 17, 2014U.S. Turns Back on Child Migrants After Its Policies in Guatemala, Honduras Sowed Seeds of Crisis
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border. President Obama is calling on Congress to back his request for emergency funding to address the 52,000 unaccompanied migrant children who have flooded into the United States over the last eight months. The $3.7 billion would be used to speed up deportations as well as to improve care for thousands of kids being held in detention centers, holding pens and temporary housing facilities.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, Congress has the capacity to work with us, work with state officials, local officials and faith-based groups and not-for-profits who are helping to care for these kids. Congress has the capacity to work with all parties concerned to directly address this situation. They’ve said they want to see a solution. The supplemental offers them the capacity to vote immediately to get it done.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Nearly half of the emergency funding would be used to deal with migrant children already in the country. But Republicans say they’ll only support the plan if it puts more emphasis on immediate deportation. They’ve called for changes to immigration law that would let the United States deport children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as quickly as it does those from Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: A 2008 anti-trafficking law says children from countries that do not directly border the United States must be allowed to stay here while their cases are processed. Many Democrats have opposed changing the policy.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to the Cannon Rotunda in the House of Representatives to be joined by Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez. He’s the Democrat from Illinois, chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Last month he took to the House floor to declare comprehensive immigration reform dead.

Congressman Gutiérrez, welcome back to Democracy Now! What do you feel needs to be done right now?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, what needs to be done is, first and foremost, is to protect the children and to follow the law of the land. And the law the land, as you have established so clearly, in 2008, the Congress of the United States adopted, adopted a position, when children come to our country in seek of asylum, as the children are being all treated as asylum seekers, first and foremost, that when they come, that within 72 hours Border Patrol agents must cease to have them in their custody. They must be put over with the refugee department at the Department of Health and Human Services, and they must be put in the least restrictive setting. This is the law, the least restrictive setting. And if you have a family member, put them there. And what the law specifically says, there will be no expedited removal. That means you get your day in court before a judge to plead your case about why you should be able to stay in the United States. That’s the law.

And I just want to make clear, Amy, that that’s a law that Michele Bachmann voted for. You know, Congressman Gohmert from Texas, every time he speaks about immigrants, he says they’re always bringing diseases. And Mr. King from Iowa? He’s the one that thinks we should electrify a fence between the United States and Mexico. And he’s—every time, it never fails: “It’s criminals.” But even King and Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, tea party queen of the Congress of the United States, all voted for the 2008 anti-human-trafficking law. We all voted. Why? Because cooler heads were prevailing at that moment. There wasn’t a humanitarian crisis at the border that you wanted to exploit for political purposes, and there just wasn’t a president that you didn’t like and an election around the corner. I think it is shameful that in the Congress of the United States we see members of Congress engendering and creating fear—fear of children—of children. We should be protecting children, not creating fear of them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Congressman Gutiérrez, what do you say to those Republicans who say that it’s President Obama’s immigration policies that are to blame for the crisis at the border? This is Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama speaking Thursday.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: The result of President Obama’s failure, I believe, to enforce the immigration law currently on the books has been predictable, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here this afternoon. Now we’re being asked by President Obama to approve a $3.7 billion request to resolve the current crisis at our border. There are several questions that I think need to be answered. What exactly is the $3.7 billion going to address? Will this request be the end, or will it be the beginning of many new requests by the administration for emergency funding?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Richard Shelby on Thursday. And many Republicans are saying that the surge is actually a reaction to the potential for young people to be kept in the United States as a result of President Obama’s previous DACA policy.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Well, first of all, let’s just look at the facts. The fact is that at the height of the George Bush administration, over a million people were crossing illegally into the United States between the Mexico-U.S. border. It is down to a little over 300,000, and that’s including the surge of children. So, that’s a pretty dramatic effect. We’ve put—we’ve tripled the Border Patrol agents. And as you know, Juan, we spend more money on immigration enforcement than we do on the DEA, the ATF, the FBI and all other law enforcement federal offices. What more would you want us to put on the border?

And this crisis that we’re looking at right now? If you put a National Guardsman every other foot across the border, the children would continue to come, fleeing the violence and the drug cartels, and they would continue to be exploited by those drug cartels, that have now created a human-smuggling operation, which they are exploiting. The financial gain of the drug cartels and the human smugglers is incredible, and how it is they use the violence in their own country and the fact that children want to escape it to charge them to come to the United States.

I just want to say this. Look, you’re right when you say that they want to expedite their deportation, but really, let’s understand something. All of the children are under removal proceedings as we speak. That’s what happens under our law. But they deserve their day in court to say why they shouldn’t ultimately be deported from the United States. So, I’m going to support the supplemental. I’m going to support the supplemental because I want to give the kids judges. I want to give the kids a trial. I want to expedite their day in court and their petition for justice. I think we should do it as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.

But one thing we should never do is undermine the law, a law created to protect children. I think they should have their day in court, and we shouldn’t, simply because we want to exploit it politically, undermine the rights of these children, rights that—it’s not only established in the—I just want everybody—I want your viewers and listeners to know that when Dick Armey in 2002 introduced the Homeland Security—by creating the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, he created—he included identical provisions to protect children. We had a vote in 2007 on the anti-trafficking law. It’s like five people voted against it. Five people voted against it. And then, in 2008, there was a voice vote. So on three different occasions, the Congress of the United States has voted to protect children. I don’t think we should undermine it.

Why did we do it? Because it was the right, sensible policy. And now people want to exploit children, so they want to reverse. And I think it’s just terrible. When I have friends of mine, like Raúl Labrador, tea party leader in the Congress of the United States, but a very good lawyer and an expert on immigration policy, just go on a news network, on a Sunday morning news network, and said, “Well, I know this is hard, and I know that it would be—it might even sound cruel, but the president should just deport the kids.” No, it’s not cruel, Raúl. It’s not hard. It would be illegal for the president. And this, after the Republicans have said to us, “The reason we won’t do immigration reform is because we don’t trust the president to carry out the laws of the land.” And when he does carry out the laws of the land, they want him to abridge the very rights that we have afforded children according to the laws of the land. Which one is it? You know, we have to fix our broken—

One last thing, I want—poorest country in Central America, going back to—is it DACA? Poorest country in Central America: Nicaragua. There are virtually no children coming from—no one’s coming from Nicaragua, virtually no one. They’re coming from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, 80 percent of them. You want to know why my suspicion is they’re not coming from Nicaragua, the poorest country in the world? Because we passed NACARA in 1997 and granted 100,000 Nicaraguans, that had fled, most of them—a lot of them Contras, that had fled the conflict in Nicaragua, were in the United States of America, and we granted them American citizenship. And they’ve had the last 14 years to legally bring their children, their spouses and their families to the United States. So, look, if it were NACARA, then why is the pull—why aren’t they coming from Belize? Why aren’t they coming from Costa Rica? Why aren’t they coming from Panama? Why are those countries receiving unprecedented numbers of refugees from the three countries? Look, Honduras is the murder capital of the world. We know that their—that the democratic fabric of Central American societies were broken down during the ’70s and ’80s during civil war conflicts. We put a lot of money in when it came to guns and when it came to bullets. It is time for us to help reconstruct civil society in those countries where children know that if they have to call upon the police, the police are there to protect them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressman Gutiérrez, we know you have to rush to a press conference, but I just wanted to ask you what the impact of this current crisis over the massive surge of children, what impact and the debate on this additional money will have on the potential for President Obama to take some administrative action in terms of immigration?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure. As Amy alluded to earlier, I gave a red card. I want you to know I worked hard. When the Republicans said, “We can’t do the Senate bill in the House of Representatives,” I said, “Good, let’s do a House bill.” You know, when they said to me, “Oh, Luis, we can’t do this in a complete package,” the president and I said, “Fine, let’s do it in parts.” And when they said everybody can’t become a citizen right away, we didn’t walk away from the table. It’s just like they couldn’t take yes for an answer from the Democrats to get this done. So we had to move forward.

What’s the solution now? I think it’s for the president. And I would hope that the president of the United States would not allow this humanitarian crisis to continue to break down and destroy families already here in the United States of America. Here’s my hope, Juan. My hope is that as small and as mean-spirited as the Republicans have shown themselves to be with the border crisis that we have and the humanitarian crisis that we have and with immigration policy in totality, I hope the president will be as wide and as broad and as generous as they have been small and mean-spirited. And I hope that he takes the Senate bill and finds, through presidential decrees, ways to stop the deportation of all of those that could have benefited under the Senate bill. The Senate bill may not be the law of the land, but we all understand it is the will of the people of the United States of America. Barack Obama got 51 percent of the vote, five million more votes than Mitt Romney. He won the election. And you know? There was a referendum. And it was for immigration reform. Let’s do the right thing. The senators, 68 out of 100, voted for it. Let’s do the right thing. And let’s do what the American public—what a broad spectrum of the American public want us to do. And that is, number one, protect the children, and, number two, stop the deportations of vulnerable communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Gutiérrez, the call by the House speaker, Boehner, for—that he’s going to sue President Obama, and others, like Sarah Palin, saying that they want him impeached?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: I say, “Mr. President, do your job. We elected you.” You know, Amy, I am tired that Democrats and that my party always brands itself as not being as bad as Republicans. That’s not our position when it comes to defending the gay community. That’s not our position when it comes to defending the environment. We don’t say, “We’re just not as bad as.” We have a position in values. Let’s be a great party, a grand party, a party that has values and principles. And let the president of the United States, with the authority he already has under the law, to stop the deportation.

Five million American citizen children have undocumented parents. Let’s stop destroying the future of those American citizen children by taking away their moms and dads simply because 25 members of the tea party won’t allow a vote in the House of Representatives. You, on your broadcast, have seen dozens upon dozens upon dozens of Republican members of the House of Representatives echo the sentiments of broad-based communities across. They want to vote for immigration reform. Let us vote for it. Just let democracy flourish one day in the House of Representatives. Give us a vote. And you know what? Not one Republican will have to risk their re-election to get immigration reform. Only those that are happily, willingly and with a joyful heart, that want to vote for immigration reform—and guess what we got. We have an immigration reform bill that fixes our broken immigration system.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, we want to thank you very much for being with us—

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: —chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. We’re going to continue on the issue of immigration, then a debate on what’s happening in Israel, West Bank and Gaza. Stay with us.

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