The Fine Print
A bipartisan duo of lawmakers from the Lone Star State have joined forces to present a Texas-style solution to the nation’s border crisis.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, have introduced legislation aimed at easing what’s been called a humanitarian crisis caused by a wave of unaccompanied Central American children who have flowed into the United States across the Mexican border.
“The cartels, the transnational criminal organizations that smuggle people from Central America into the United States, have figured out this loophole in a 2008 law, which dealt with human trafficking,” Cornyn told “The Fine Print” in an interview.
“This is part of their business model, exploiting this,” Cornyn continued. “So, what we would do is we would treat children that come from Central America the same … as we do now from children that come in from Mexico.”
The pair’s new bill, known as the Humane Act, would speed up the process by which the undocumented children currently stuck in legal limbo in the United States would have their cases heard by a judge. Cuellar noted that there are currently 375,000 such children waiting for a judicial hearing.
“It takes three to five years to have a hearing,” Cuellar said. “So just like we are used in America to a speedy trial date, we're going to give them a speedy trial date so they won't have to wait three to five years to present their claim for asylum.”
The bill, which was sharply criticized by several Democrats and immigrant-rights groups, calls for shortening the waiting period from years to a matter of only seven days. It also requires the judge to deliver a ruling within 72 hours of the case being heard.
“If you have credible fears of persecution in your home country, you might be eligible for asylum,” Cornyn explained. “But otherwise you're going to have to go back home and come back in the right way, and so this is something can be done on an expedited basis.”
Cuellar, recently back from a Congressional trip to Central America, said that although there is an undeniable humanitarian element to the crisis -- with many of these children fleeing from situations of violence and poverty -- the bigger factor at play is that the drug cartels have a business incentive in bringing the children across the U.S. border.
“The drug cartels found an incentive, and this is what we're trying to cut off -- this incentive,” Cuellar said. “Did you know that they're even using social media? Social media saying, ‘If you get recruited, we'll give you a rebate if you bring another child with you.’”
Cuellar also pointed out that the flow of children out of their home countries is causing a “brain drain” problem for Central America.
“They’re taking young kids with potentials away from their countries,” Cuellar said. “There’s a superhighway where the drug cartels have routes. They can move people, they can move drugs, and now they’re moving, of course, young kids.”
President Obama recently asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion in emergency funds to address the border crisis, but Cornyn said he would not vote to support the request for money, because he said the president’s request won’t solve the problem.
“What Henry and I have tried to do is give them a roadmap on how to fix this gap, this problem with the 2008 law, that none of us would've dreamed of at the time,” he said. “Essentially we all voted for it, but now it's been exploited by the cartels. And if we fix that, then I think we can resolve this, at least this narrow part of the immigration puzzle very quickly.”
Cuellar, though a Democrat, has also been critical of Obama’s handling of the current border crisis. He pointed out that while Obama criticized President George W. Bush for only flying over the wreckage caused by Hurricane Katrina a week after the storm first hit the Gulf Coast, Obama has not visited the border to see the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“All I'm saying is if he's asking for $3.7 billion and he's calling this a humanitarian crisis, doesn't that call for a visit?” Cuellar said. “I invite the president to come down there to see the human faces. When you talk to Emilia from Honduras, 90 years old, or 14-year-old Miguel from El Salvador, you’ve got to see the human, humanitarian crisis that I've seen so many times.”
For more of the interview with Cornyn and Cuellar, including whether they believe this is a game-changing moment in the immigration reform debate, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Ben Siegel, John Bullard, and Barry Haywood contributed to this episode.