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Delegation Supports President's Call For Emergency Immigration Funds

Rebecca Blackwell
Guatemalan migrant Gladys Chinoy, 14, right, waits with more than 500 other migrants, many traveling with small children, outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico on June 20.

All three members of Vermont’s Congressional delegation are supporting President Obama’s call for an additional $4 billion in emergency aid to help deal with an immigration crisis in the southwestern part of the United States. 

In recent weeks, more than 50,000 children and families from Central America have entered the U.S. The surge of undocumented people crossing the border has put enormous pressure on the federal government.

Under the president’s plan, the emergency money would be used to build new detention centers and hire more immigration judges and border patrol agents. Congressman Peter Welch says he supports the president’s approach.

“We really need to have a vigorous response to this,” said Welch. “This is a humanitarian disaster of significant proportions.”

"We really need to have a vigorous response to this. This is a humanitarian disaster of significant proportions." - Rep. Peter Welch

The White House says it plans to deport most of the children but it’s a legal process that could take months to complete. Welch says that’s because a law passed in 2008, in the final month of the Bush Administration, sets up a strict legal procedure for children who enter this country on their own.

At the time, the law was intended to protect children from sex trafficking. But Welch says it was written so broadly that it applies to virtually all circumstances.

Under the law, the children are given an immigration hearing and they can consult with a legal advocate. During the process, they are allowed to live in “the least restrictive setting that’s in the best interest of the child.”

“The way the law was written is a mistake,” said Welch. “It said any unaccompanied minor, so that can be kids who are here because some of these criminal enterprises down in Central American countries, talk parents into bringing their kids up and say it will be a good deal for them.”

Welch says the current crisis highlights the need for Congress to pass a meaningful immigration reform bill.

Last year, the Senate passed legislation that creates a long term pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers in this country, and it called for stronger measures to secure the border.

The House hasn’t voted on the bill and Speaker John Boehner says he has no plans to bring it up for debate for the rest of this year. Senator Patrick Leahy is very disappointed by the speaker’s decision.

“They want to make changes on it, fine. If they don’t, then stop giving the speeches about what’s wrong,” said Leahy. “Right now they’re voting maybe. They’re not voting yes or no.”

Many of the children coming into the country are fleeing violent conditions at home. As chairman of the Senate committee on foreign appropriations, Leahy thinks these countries need to respond to this situation.

“Honduras and Guatemala have got to get their act together,” said Leahy. “We give them a huge amount of aid, they’re allowing these groups, murderers, rapists, terrorists who roam free. They’ve got to stop it.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he also supports the president’s call for emergency funds, but he wants to be certain that the money isn’t taken from existing refugee resettlement programs.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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