Congress finally passed a much needed disaster relief bill June 4, addressing urgent needs in South Carolina and other states. But the bill wrongly provided zero dollars for President Trump’s urgent request of $4.5 billion to improve southern border reception facilities, especially for the floods of children illegally entering the United States daily. The sad reason for this neglect is politics: The Democratic House does not want to advance any proposal by the Republican president.
The surge in migrants from Central America is overwhelming border security and the reception facilities for those seeking asylum. Through April this year the number of illegal immigrants apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol on the southwest border (not counting those who escaped apprehension) was larger than the total number for all of calendar 2017, and the May total of more than 144,000 was the largest in 13 years.
The lack of housing and other amenities, and the legal obstacles to immediate deportation, require the Department of Homeland Security to release illegal immigrants into the United States and endangers the health of those being housed prior to a court hearing on their application for asylum. Two minors died in May from lack of adequate medical attention. There is an urgent need for a rapid expansion of housing, medical support and sustenance.
While House and Senate Democrats blocked the request for emergency funds to address the border crisis, the House did find time to pass a bill symbolically extending amnesty to some 2 million illegal immigrants already in the United States. It has no chance of Senate passage.
The House has a peculiar sense of priorities.
In addition to the need for improved border security and funds to tend to the flood of migrants from Central America, Congress should swiftly enact asylum reforms such as those recently proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would tighten standards for granting asylum and require asylum seekers to remain outside the United States until the crowded immigration courts can hear their applications.
The Graham approach would require cooperation from Central American nations and Mexico to strongly discourage migrant caravans.
After Mr. Trump threatened to slap Mexico with escalating tariffs beginning Monday, Mexican authorities in recent days began turning back migrants at the country’s southern border, and officials there promised to deploy as many as 6,000 national guard troops to the border with Guatemala to stem the flow from the single-largest source of migrants coming to the United States. Other broad changes in asylum rules in the region also were proposed as a direct response to President Trump’s tariff threat.
While that threat certainly got the attention of Mexican officials, the wider conversation about illegal immigration also must continue. Putting an effective cooperative program in place likely will take more time. Meanwhile, the flood of immigrants must be fed and housed, and that will take at least the funds requested, but so far denied, by Congress.