Boozman tours Texas alien-holding units

Posted: August 2, 2014 at 4:04 a.m.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/SARAH D. WIRE - 02/04/2014 - U.S. Sen. John Boozman speaks to the media after the Senate approves the farm bill 68-32. The Rogers Republican was a member of the committee that negotiated the final bill.

WASHINGTON -- As Congress debated how to address the number of children flowing across the country's southern border, U.S. Sen. John Boozman and six other senators Friday visited one of the main processing centers for those entering illegally.

The senators visited the facility in McAllen, Texas, and traveled to the border to view the fence, before meeting with detained children at a separate Department of Health and Human Services facility.

Customs and Border Patrol has picked up more than 57,000 unaccompanied children -- about three-fourths from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- since October, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In July, President Barack Obama proposed a $3.7 billion supplemental appropriation bill to provide housing and care for those who have made illegal crossings and to supply additional security at the border.

Democrats and Republicans have argued since then about what immigration policy changes to include and how much emergency money to approve.

A procedural hurdle kept the U.S. Senate from approving their version of the bill Thursday. The House was scheduled to vote on its version of the funding bill late Friday. With the start of a five-week August recess, no legislative action is expected to occur until the two chambers return.

Boozman said the federal agencies will be fine with the money they have until after the House and Senate return. He voted no on the Senate bill because it didn't sufficiently specify how the president would use the money.

"I think the vote against that [Thursday] night was the correct vote," he said. "We need to provide the funds that are needed for the humanitarian care ... but right now there is an adequate amount of money in the pipeline to do that until late September."

Boozman said he kept hearing Friday that the number of crossings has dropped significantly. That is because the United States is sending people back home, he said.

"When those people are showing up back in their countries, that's a real deterrent to making the trip," Boozman said.

He reiterated some Republicans' argument that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by the president without congressional input in 2012, has inspired the wave.

Through the program, hundreds of thousands of people brought into the country illegally as children have received temporary reprieves from deportation while they apply for citizenship.

"People began calling home saying 'you can come, you can stay,' and so they started coming, but now they're saying 'we're in the detention center, we're not getting to stay,' and so that message is getting out," he said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has created a public awareness campaign in Central American countries about how dangerous the journey is and that children who do make it to the United States will be sent back. Homeland Security also has more than doubled the number of Border Patrol agents in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

Early reports about the influx included allegations that border control facilities weren't prepared for housing so many small children.

But in the past month, the border protection agency has built a new facility to handle the increase, which includes space to prepare and serve food and provide medical care, Boozman said.

"They were just overwhelmed and trying to do the best they could," he said.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Angus King, I-Maine; Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., were also on the trip.

"It's a complex problem," Boozman said. "There's no substitute for actually being some place, seeing and also visiting with the people that are on the front lines."

None of the other members of the Arkansas delegation have visited the border in the past six months to see the current conditions, their staff members said Friday. U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin is scheduled to travel to McAllen late next week.

Metro on 08/02/2014