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Rep. Lofgren, Sen. Menendez: GOP Must Not Politicize Child Refugee Crisis

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This morning, Rep. Zoe Lofgren along with national faith leaders called on her fellow members of Congress to do the right thing by the children on the border, including protecting their right to legal representation.  “I have asked my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” she said, “to be cautious not to make these little children a political football in a broader disagreement about immigration.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) echoed that message in  speech on the House floor calling on Republicans to support the appropriations that President Obama has called for to assist the children on the border.  As Sen. Menendez said, the children are coming to the US as a result of a refugee crisis, which must not be demagogued or politicized just so that they can score cheap points.  Watch Sen. Menendez’s speech below, or read an excerpt (the full is here):

We are here today to address a refugee crisis in America. I never thought I would have to use those words on the floor of the Senate, but there is no other way to describe what is happening on our southern border.

What is happening in Central America – the violence, the kidnappings, and failure of the rule of law – is the root cause of the problem and is threatening tens of thousands of families, thousands and thousands of children.

It is causing a humanitarian and refugee crisis that simply is unacceptable; unacceptable in America and unacceptable in our hemisphere.

Let’s be clear, it’s being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure. It is nearly two thousand miles from these countries to the U.S. border. These families are not undertaking this journey lightly.

My Republican colleagues make it sound as though parents are willingly choosing to risk their children’s lives – send them away on a 2 thousand mile journey fraught with smuggler’s, thieves, child abductors, sex traffickers. As if it is a real choice.

They are parents – as we are parents – and I, as a parent, cannot imagine making that choice to send them on a perilous journey with no guarantees of survival except out of absolute fear for their lives if they stay.

To politicize the decision to send a child away as opportunistic and a way to take advantage of American law is as cynical a position as I have ever heard. First of all, no Deferred Action DACA Program would help any of these people. The Immigration reform bill we passed would not help one of these people. They would have had to have been in the country by December 31st, 2011.

Republicans in the House won’t even take a vote on immigration reform. Frankly, my Republican friends can’t have it both ways. They can’t criticize the President – in fact sue the President — for abusing his executive authority, and at the same time come to this floor and criticize him for a lack of leadership. That is nothing, if not totally and transparently political.

This is not about a welcome mat, it’s a desperate effort on the part of thousands of parents to do what parents instinctively do: Which is do what you must do to protect your child from the threats of violence and death at home – even if that means sending them away….

The bottom line is that we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a refugee perspective, an immigration perspective, and a national security perspective. We need to do all we can to stabilize the situation in Central America and stop the flow of children and refugees to our borders.

After a full year of squandering every conceivable opportunity to pass common sense immigration reform, Speaker Boehner has admitted his party has killed any prospects for reform. Now we have to deal with the political consequences of Republican leadership’s obstructionism.

I fully support the President’s efforts to fix some of the most urgent problems facing our nation’s broken immigration system, and I look forward to seeing families receive relief from deportation as we continue to advocate for a permanent legislative solution.

In the meantime, we need to provide emergency funding to deal with this refugee crisis. To begin with, the President’s supplemental appropriation request is very tough pro-enforcement legislation….

Asylum claims in the region have skyrocketed by 700 percent in recent years. Current law protects the ability of these children and families to apply for asylum, trafficking protection and other specialized forms of relief.

While not every child will have a valid claim, it is critically important that every child be given the chance to have due process so that we don’t inadvertently return them to death or violence.

There are better ways to deal with this population than through detention or expedited proceedings that don’t reflect due process.

I’d like the Administration to explore the use of alternatives to detention for families that we want to monitor and ensure show up at their court proceedings. This supplemental appropriations bill should include more money for legal orientation presentation programs and representation of children in court than is currently in the supplemental request.