On "Fox News Sunday," House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul floated the idea of tying his border security bill to President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to help ease the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the Southwest border. That crisis is real and requires immediate action from Congress, but it has nothing to do with border security. McCaul’s attempt to combine the issues only puts the funding request in jeopardy.
Those funds are needed to house and feed the 50,000-plus unaccompanied minors who have entered the U.S. so far this year; find sponsors for them while they await their court proceedings; hire more immigration judges to reduce the case backlog; and, for those who aren't allowed to stay, transport them home. Obama’s request also includes money for increased border security. This is a reasonable response to the border crisis—one that focuses on treating the kids in a humane way while upholding U.S. law.
Republicans (and some Democrats) have also proposed changing the 2008 law, signed by President George W. Bush, that requires all unaccompanied, migrant children not from Mexico or Canada to receive a hearing before an immigration court judge. (Migrant kids from those two countries can be returned immediately.) Such changes would make it easier for the Department of Homeland Security to return Central American migrants—mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—but could risk sending back kids who would qualify for asylum. On the other hand, reforming the 2008 law would help to reduce the backlog of cases.
However, neither emergency funding nor changes to the 2008 law will solve this crisis. The fact is, we don’t know exactly why these children have fled to the U.S.—there isn't one single cause, anyway. Republicans have blamed Obama’s 2011 executive action that allows children who were illegally brought to this country by their parents and who have been here since before 2007 to stay legally. Human smugglers are certainly spreading misinformation that these kids will be allowed to stay in the U.S. The 2008 law may be causing further confusion. Finally, violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is also driving some of these children to make the long trek north.
Whatever the origin of the crisis, apprehending these unaccompanied minors—that is, border security—is not the problem right now. The problem is finding places to house all of the kids who've been apprehended.
So, why does McCaul want his border control bill included in legislation for emergency funding? It’s not clear. He never elaborated on Fox News and his office did not immediately respond to the question. But politics likely plays a major role: Border control may have little to do with the current crisis, but the public will likely conflate the two issues. That gives McCaul a chance to promote his border security bill, even if it isn’t directly connected to the problem.
“I think we have to act soon," McCaul said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's a crisis at hand. It demands action, a call for action. It's a very tragic human crisis at the border, none like I've ever seen.” McCaul is dead right: This crisis demands immediate action. But if he successfully ties his border security measure to the emergency funding request, he will be accomplishing exactly the opposite.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.