WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Emergency Supplemental Funding Bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. The measure includes funds to address the humanitarian challenge at the southern border. His statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
“Mr. President, I rise today in support of the emergency supplemental appropriations bill introduced by Senator Mikulski last week. This bill would provide $2.7 billion in order to address the humanitarian challenge that is playing out on our southern border. This money will ensure that the agencies charged with securing our borders don’t run out of money this summer. More importantly, it will address some of the underlying root causes of the problem we face.
“As we all know, we are facing an unprecedented surge in migration from three countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And a large number of the migrants from these countries are families, and unaccompanied children—some as young as four years old.
“Let me be clear: these children and families are not slipping past our borders undetected. They are being apprehended in large numbers by the Border Patrol almost as soon as they touch U.S. soil, often turning themselves in voluntarily. Although the influx has slowed in recent weeks, the sheer numbers of children and families coming across our border in south Texas earlier this summer overwhelmed the Border Patrol, Health and Human Services and other federal agencies.
“The Administration and Secretary Johnson have responded to this situation with an “all hands on deck” approach. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is coordinating the DHS-wide response to the problem. The Department of Defense has provided space on some of its military installations to house unaccompanied minors until Health and Human Services can find a placement for them. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has greatly expanded its ability to detain and remove families. And, we have surged Border Patrol agents, immigration judges, and other personnel to the border to help process people. These measures have been working. For example, the amount of time people are detained before they are removed has decreased significantly in recent weeks. But these emergency measures are expensive, and none of federal agencies involved have the money they need to sustain the aggressive steps they are taking to deal with this situation.
“The consequences of not moving forward with this legislation are severe. Let me give you some examples of what failing to act will mean. Without this emergency funding, Immigration and Customs Enforcement could be forced to release thousands of people currently being detained and to stop operating repatriation flights. Health and Human Services could be forced to cut back on the number of children it can care for. Children would be forced to stay longer at Border Patrol stations and Border Patrol agents would spend their time taking care for children and less time pursuing the smuggling networks operating along our borders.
“Now, some of my colleagues are suggesting that we won’t be able to pass this supplemental until September, and that the Administration can just move money around until then to make up the shortfall. That may have been more feasible early in this fiscal year, but doing so now, will likely have significant unintended consequences. For example, it would impair our border security because DHS may have to reduce aerial support for the Border Patrol or stop replacing badly needed x-ray machines at our ports of entry. Our ability to respond to natural disasters could also be harmed.
“I also understand that my colleagues in the House introduced a bill today that would provide just $659 million to deal with this crisis—that’s just a drop in the bucket from what is needed. Incredibly, they are proposing to offset much of this funding by raiding the Department of Homeland Security’s other critical operations, which is what Senator Mikulski’s bill is trying to avoid.
“Failing to move an emergency supplemental this week would be unconscionable. I urge all of my colleagues to do the right thing here and make sure that we deal with this before we leave for five weeks.
“Dealing with the challenge we are facing on the border is, rightly, our main focus right now; however, we cannot lose sight of the root causes that are driving this surge in migration. In this country, all too often we focus too much attention on dealing with symptoms of problems and not enough attention on addressing their underlying causes. This is particularly true on our borders. Since 2003, we have spent $223 billion—almost a quarter- trillion dollars—enforcing our immigration and customs laws. We have spent a small fraction of this total—less than 1 percent—helping El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras improve conditions for their citizens.
“I commend the President, and Chairwoman Mikulski, for including $300 million in this emergency supplemental aimed at addressing what I am convinced are the root causes of this problem: the lack of economic opportunities, jobs, and hope in Central America, combined with increasing violence and insecurity in the region. Based on my recent conversations with Central American leaders and trips to the region, I believe that one of the critical needs is to foster economic growth—and create jobs.
“How, you might ask? By helping to restore the rule of law, lowering energy costs, and improving education, workforce skills, and access to capital. I am not suggesting that any of this will be quick or easy to do. It will require a sustained investment—and focus—on the region by the U.S. and also by a number of others.
“But it can be done. In fact, we have already done it with two of our most important allies in Latin America. Twenty years ago, Colombia was close to being a failed state and, not that long ago, the economic situation in Mexico was so bad that more than a million Mexicans were apprehended trying to cross our border every year. Today, both countries have vibrant economies, and their citizens have hope for the future.
“Having said that, let me be clear. We cannot – and we should not – do this alone. This needs to be a shared responsibility with the governments of these three countries, with our partners in the region such as Mexico and Colombia, and with other stakeholders in the region, including the development banks, the private sector, non-profits and institutions of faith.
“The $300 million in this emergency supplemental is a down-payment on what will need to be a long-term commitment to our neighbors in the region. This cannot be one and done. If we are serious about addressing this surge, we will need to do more and, frankly, so will others. Based on what I have seen and heard, solving this crisis requires a holistic approach, one that tackles the underlying causes that are pushing people out of Central America and the factors that are pulling them to our borders. If we turn our backs on these countries, I am convinced that we will be back here again 10 years from now dealing with another expensive humanitarian crisis on our border.
“I urge all of my colleagues to put politics aside, and to pass this urgently needed emergency supplemental.”