REFUGEE CRISIS; Congressional Record Vol. 160, No. 116
(Senate - July 23, 2014)

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[Pages S4846-S4848]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                             REFUGEE CRISIS

  Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, while presiding for a couple of hours 
just now I listened to some very powerful and eloquent debate organized 
by the Presiding Officer--I thank him for doing so--regarding the 
migrant unaccompanied children who are coming across our border. Those 
remarks moved and inspired me. They were followed afterward by an 
effort by Senators Shaheen and others to bring to the floor a measure 
on energy efficiency.
  The connection between the two may not seem immediately apparent. 
But, in fact, I was struck by the irony of an effort by some of our 
colleagues to eliminate and repeal, in effect, a measure called the 
Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. It is 
actually named the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection 
Reauthorization Act of 2008, very symbolically and significantly named 
after a leader who sought to abolish the slave trade.
  Our colleagues who seek to repeal, in effect, that measure are 
calling its provisions a ``loophole'' because it provides for screening 
of migrant children, such as those who are reaching our border, who are 
not from the immediate bordering countries. They are from other Central 
American countries. They are seeking to apply to them the same 
procedures or lack of procedures, lack of screening, lack of individual 
consideration that apply to migrant children from Canada and Mexico on 
the theory that those provisions are a ``loophole'' in our law. In 
fact, those screening procedures are the very intent and substance of 
our law. They are meant to provide individual, careful, fair 
consideration of each child.
  On a day when consideration of the energy efficiency bill named for 
Senators Shaheen and Portman was blocked from consideration, colleagues 
are considering a measure and advocating a measure that is completely 
unnecessary. The Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill is vitally 
necessary. The repeal of the Trafficking Victims Protection and 
Reauthorization Act of 2008 is entirely unnecessary, in fact unhelpful 
and downright harmful.
  The question of what to do about the flow of migrant children to our 
border is one of profound importance for our Chamber and our country to 
face in the coming days and weeks.
  I recently visited the border in a trip organized, thankfully, by 
Senator Hirono and joined by Senator Murkowski. We met Senator Cornyn 
while we were there. We went to various of the facilities to see for 
ourselves and speak with the children who were coming to our borders, 
the professionals who were seeking to care for them, the Border Patrol 
agents endeavoring to enforce the law, all of whom are involved in this 
situation on the ground.
  That experience has formed--I hesitate to say transformed, but it has 
certainly changed my view of this problem, because we speak in this 
body about these unaccompanied minors, as they are called, as though 
they are an interchangeable mass. They are massive in numbers, but each 
is an individual. Each has a story to tell. Each is different.
  They have in common, most of them, stories of horror and terror, 
vicious persecution, cruelty and brutality, rape, murder, and forced 
prostitution in the countries they are seeking to escape. This 
brutality is spawned by gang

[[Page S4847]]

warfare, the result of conflict among gangs trading in drugs; cartels 
and organized crime that have put children in the middle of their 
murderous activities.
  As others during that eloquent colloquy organized by the Presiding 
Officer observed, much of that drug trade has moved from Colombia to 
Central America. It is fueled by demand, the same demand that fuels the 
Colombian gang warfare, from the United States. The demand comes from 
this country, the demand for those illicit drugs.
  Those children, caught in the horrific violence plaguing their home, 
have fled to this country seeking safety and security. Many of them are 
also seeking their parents, because the majority have one or more 
parent in this country already. The vast majority have a close 
relative, if not a parent, an aunt or uncle. So their journey seeks to 
reunify them with their families, as well as to escape the grisly, 
grinding horror of their existence in those homelands they have left. 
Those journeys are plagued by the harshest, most inhumane of 
conditions: deserts, swamps and, most dangerously, the traffickers.
  The smugglers who exploit them put them in stash houses, take them 
hostage, hold them for ransom, threaten their lives, and often rape and 
murder them, preventing them from reaching this country. These faces 
are of the children I saw, with fear in their eyes, fear of all adults, 
because most of the adults in their lives have been a threat, not a 
protector; fear in their eyes about the Border Patrol agents who are 
there when they arrive at the loading dock at the McAllen border 
facility. It is a loading dock where produce or goods might be dumped 
or left to be shipped elsewhere. They arrive at the loading dock and 
sit on a bench, fear in their eyes, apprehension in their voices.
  They are then interviewed by the Border Patrol, who are wearing 
uniforms, looking like the authoritarian figures they are. In the lives 
of these children, the police are not a source of comfort, they are a 
source of danger because in their country the police are corrupt and a 
threat, not a protector.
  They are not apprehended by the Border Patrol; they surrender to 
them. Border security is not the issue. Again, as some of my colleagues 
remarked earlier, these children are coming in to give themselves up in 
the hope of being taken into custody, fed, housed, and given some basic 
security and safety.
  Their numbers are down--anywhere from 30 to 50 percent down in July 
as compared to June, so we were told by the Border Patrol agent. 
Whether that is a temporary phenomenon or a trend remains to be seen, 
but the numbers are down.
  After this holding detention center, where they are kept in cement-
floor cellblocks, segregated by age and gender, so densely packed that 
they can barely sit let alone lie down, and provided with foil 
blankets, they are sent to more permanent facilities, such as the 
Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where we also visited.
  That facility has a dormitory, a health clinic, a school. Classes are 
conducted in tents, and the treatment is far more humane. They are 
given classes in English. They are eager--intensely eager--to learn 
English, and they are taught in classrooms in these tents where there 
is a blackboard and an American flag outside an artificial turf soccer 
field, where they are intensely eager to play soccer.
  They stay there about 7 days to 3 weeks until they are moved to a 
home because many of them have relatives. Most of them have some family 
members in this country or another facility. They move from one 
temporary facility to a better one and then to a home.
  In the second facility, they are in the custody of the HHS or the 
Office of Refugee Settlement, not the Border Patrol. It is a better 
facility, no question, but still rudimentary.
  One of the most powerful moments of this trip was to watch these 
students--I would say about 20 of them in a class--show how they were 
learning English, show the words they have learned and tell us where 
they were from--Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador--and then to rise to 
show us Senators how they could recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We 
joined with them in reciting that pledge. I wish my colleagues--I wish 
every American could have been there at that moment. There was 
something basic, fundamental about us as Americans in that moment, 
about what we offer--hope, opportunity, freedom, and protection--to 
people who come here with that aspiration, that those children 
epitomized at that moment. Whether you agree or disagree on what should 
be done, whether you feel we ought to do something differently with 
these children, that moment evoked a fundamental value in our society.
  Another moment did as well--when a busload arrived. As we were about 
to leave, the staff of that facility lined up on both sides of the 
children coming off the bus into the facility, clapping for them. The 
staff was clapping and cheering for these children arriving at the 
facility, after leaving the border crossing where they were under the 
custody of the Border Patrol agents. They were clapping and cheering 
for children who recently arrived in this country, and the children 
were beaming.
  The staff and the professionals who care for these children are truly 
to be thanked. They are dedicated professionals--the Border Patrol 
agents who do their very best to make these kids feel at home under 
very adverse conditions; the HHS counselors and teachers who seek to 
interview them, give them some basic hope and comfort; all of the 
professionals in the Office of Refugee Resettlement who seek against 
the odds to provide them with a future.
  The mayor of McAllen, who runs a small town on the border--which is 
where that border crossing is, where the McAllen facility is housed--I 
think many of us expected him to complain to us about the burden of 
this flood of children coming into his town, the expenditure of 
resources necessary to support the infrastructure, the burden on him 
and his fellow townspeople. To the contrary, the mayor of McAllen, Jim 
Darling, said to us that they welcome these children. They regard the 
border as part of their home. They have an interchange in culture and 
family.

  He said to us, in effect--I don't remember whether they were his 
exact words--about welcoming these children: This is what we do. We are 
Americans. This is what we do. We are Americans--not asking for 
reimbursement for the expenses for his town, although it is a 
significant part of his budget. Comparable to the Federal Government, 
it would be in the billions. His budget is much smaller, so the 
proportion, obviously, is much less, but it is a major fiscal burden on 
McAllen.
  Mayor Jim Darling impressed us and inspired us with his willingness 
to welcome these children--at least to care for them while the law is 
enforced. That is the point I want to emphasize to my colleagues 
tonight.
  What is needed is not a repeal of the Trafficking Victims Protection 
Reauthorization Act of 2008. What is needed is not to send these 
children back without screening or consideration. What is needed is not 
a wholesale closing of due process. It is enforcement of that law, 
resources to enforce that law, resources to provide the immigration 
judges and the advocates who are so desperately needed for these 
children. After all, they look at any authoritarian figure with fear, 
even the teachers, many of them, as well as the border agents who seek 
to elicit from them those stories about why they fled their home. They 
fear retaliation from anyone who might learn they are talking about the 
reasons they left. They need spokespeople for this process, and they 
need the individual consideration, child by child by child. That is 
what the law requires. That law should be enforced, not repealed.
  Enforcement also means border security. It means better facilities 
while they are under care of the Department of HHS as well as the 
Border Patrol. It means that we support State officials if they provide 
State facilities. Those decisions about where, when, and how many 
should be made by State officials, but the Federal Government can 
support them.
  That is why I thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership on the 
supplemental, as well as the Presiding Officer for his leadership in 
organizing the colloquy earlier today because raising awareness, as 
well as resources, is what is necessary to make sure we reunite these 
children with their families when, in fact, their request for asylum is 
justified child by child, justified by

[[Page S4848]]

the facts and the evidence, upheld by due process, by justice and by 
fairness--not demonizing, as may be done by calling out the National 
Guard or denouncing children who are doing nothing more--6-, 7-, 8-, 9-
, 10-year-olds--than seeking safety and security.
  Their courage, as well as their resilience, finally, was inspiring as 
well. Having crossed so many miles, against so many obstacles, in the 
face of so many threats, their smiles as they recited the Pledge of 
Allegiance to the United States of America is the picture I will have 
in advocating a bipartisan solution, long-term immigration reform, and 
a fair and just resolution to their fight as they seek freedom and 
security in our great Nation, the greatest country in the history of 
the world.

                          ____________________