A congressional homeland security committee held an emergency hearing Thursday in Texas to discuss the growing crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border with Mexico.
Bay Area Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from Pleasanton, was part of the hearing and spoke with KTVU Thursday night. He says seeing the children at the intake center was heartbreaking.
Americans are facing the question of what to do with more than 52,000 children who’ve come alone into the U.S. this year.
An estimated 75 percent of those children came from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Swalwell says that is higher than the 38,759 unaccompanied children caught last year on the southern border.
Immigrant rights groups held a rally in Oakland Thursday calling on President Obama to grant the children refugee status. The immigrant advocates say the children are fleeing poverty, gang violence, or trying to reunite with family here.
Other people in Southern California’s Riverside County, blocked buses carrying children, demanding they be deported immediately.
The House Homeland Security Committee met following a tour of a detention facility in McAllen, Texas.
“It’s a horrible situation and it’s one that breaks your heart when you see the children,” Swalwell said.
“What I saw in one case was 40 children in a 250 square foot area with little food,” Swalwell told KTVU. He said the Border Patrol agents were doing their best to care for the children despite limited resources.
At the hearing, Texas Governor Rick Perry told the committee the crisis is a federal problem. Perry called on the U.S. Government to reimburse Texas for $500 million which Perry says the state spent on border security over the past decade. He says the children should be deported.
“Allowing them to remain here will only encourage the next group of individuals to undertake this very, very dangerous and life threatening journey,” Perry told the committee.
Congressman Swalwell questioned Perry.
“Would you agree governor that the challenge though is that where they’re from does not necessarily cooperate with us and we need to put pressure on Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador to receive them?” asked Swalwell.
Governor Perry agreed, but challenged Swalwell to state on the record that the children should be sent to their countries of origin. Congressman Eric Swalwell said it should be on a case by case basis.
Right now, immediate deportation is not an option. A 2008 law passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush states that any child from a country that doesn’t border the U.S. must be handed over within 72 hours to the Department of Health and Human Services for care until the child’s case is reviewed.
“Our challenge is we don’t have the resources to take on that many children every single day,” Swalwell told KTVU.
Governor Perry has offered to show President Obama the border next week, when the President comes to Texas for fundraising.