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Solve our border crisis

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By SEN. DAN COATS
Guest Columnist

More than 60,000 unaccompanied alien children – mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – have been apprehended on America’s southern border during this fiscal year. Another 40,000 family members – one or both parents traveling with their children – have been apprehended during the same time period.

To put these numbers in perspective, just three years ago our Border Patrol apprehended 16,000 unaccompanied alien children. In fiscal year 2008, the number was 8,000.

We cannot sit back and let this situation grow worse, as it does day by day. We must solve this humanitarian crisis and stem the flow of unaccompanied minors entering our country.

I believe the solution involves four key components:
Enforcing existing law to stop the influx of illegal immigration and return those who have already come.

Addressing the border crisis is about more than caring for the young boys and girls already in the United States. In reality, the crisis begins when these children start their trip, given the dangers of the journey. Those making the difficult trek from Central America are often in the hands of smugglers or drug runners, largely because of false information and promises that are not true. Sadly, many children experience violence on the way or never make it to the United States.

Why are they risking their lives to make this journey?

In 2010, the White House began administratively chipping away at our nation’s immigration laws. This generated whispers of hope that ran rampant through the families of our Central American neighbors and gave many the false impression that reaching American soil guarantees a new life.

This belief spread in 2012 when President Obama took a further step by essentially halting the removal of illegal immigrants who arrived as minors. Since that time, the rate of children coming illegally across our border has increased exponentially. Current law requires that these children be returned to their home countries as quickly and expeditiously as possible, and we must follow it.

A viable repatriation plan.

Repatriation sends a clear message that the United States will send children back to their home countries and unite them with their families. Parents will see children returned home, and perhaps not spend the money and risk the danger of sending their children away.

We must deter children from even starting this arduous journey.

A viable repatriation program must include a streamlined and appropriate processing system. The administration has some flexibility under current law to move families and children through immigration proceedings in an accelerated manner, but Congress needs to go further by changing current law to treat all unaccompanied alien children equally.

Working with the governments of Central American countries and insist they fully cooperate.

The United States must make clear to Central American leaders that any assistance from our country is contingent on working with our government to break this cycle of illegal immigration. Unless we engage in a cooperative effort, the current cycle will remain intact. These countries can help law enforcement crack down on smugglers.
Reasonable care for the children while they are here.

As unaccompanied minors await their day in court, providing adequate housing and care is the appropriate and compassionate response. Our country should continue to meet the needs of children who have been sent here.

Given how rapidly this situation is escalating, the United States has a moral responsibility to swiftly solve this crisis. This situation involves more than just unaccompanied minors. We cannot ignore the national security implications of a weak border.

For the sake of the rule of law, our national security and the safety of these children, it is imperative that we get this right.

Coats is a Republican from Indiana.