WASHINGTON, June 25 (UPI) -- Lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday on the surge of Central American children attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, blaming the Obama administration for inadvertently encouraging migration through its policies.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., echoed his colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee in saying the White House has been so lax on illegal immigration that people have gotten the impression they will be allowed to stay.
"The truth is that this administration has dramatically altered immigration enforcement policies," Goodlatte said. "The timing of the change in policies correlates closely with the steep uptick of individuals showing up at the border."
"Apparently, word has gotten out that once encountered by Border Patrol agents and processed, thanks to this administration's lax enforcement policies, one will likely never be removed," he added.
Republicans have said the president's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals -- which allows work permits for those who came to the U.S. as children and have been here for at least seven years -- has been taken as a welcome mat, encouraging those children to come because they believe they won't be deported.
The number of unaccompanied minors detained in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has more than doubled from 24,000 in the last fiscal year to 52,000 in 2014 thus far. Administration officials have said conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras had deteriorated so much that families will risk sending a child on the dangerous, thousand-mile journey across Mexico, often paying thousands to a coyote smuggler to seek refuge in the U.S.
Indeed, more than half of the children detained at the border are placed with a parent inside the U.S., and more than half of the remainder with another member of their family. On Tuesday, Republicans said they were skeptical that the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for tracking those children while their deportation notices are pending, was ensuring they returned for their status hearings.
And the administration has admitted that there are those who have misunderstood that neither DACA nor a Senate-passed immigration reform would apply to new arrivals, and still others, primarily criminal organizations, that have deliberately misinformed desperate families so as to convince them to pay to smuggle children to the U.S.
But Democrats say their Republican colleagues are twisting the humanitarian crisis to fit their own political objectives.
"At best, it evidences a desire to use the humanitarian crisis playing out along the border as an excuse to not act on comprehensive immigration reform," said Judiciary ranking member Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. "At worst, it demonstrates that some of my Republican colleagues are willing to exploit even a humanitarian crisis -- involving children no less -- to attack the Obama administration."
"There is simply no place for this posturing and finger-pointing in the face of this human tragedy," Conyers said.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republicans tie the current crisis to the broader issue of immigration reform at their own peril. At her weekly press conference at the Capitol Wednesday, Pelosi said the GOP was catering to a narrow extreme of its party, rather than the majority who support immigration reform and a path to citizenship.
"Even President Bush, he was so great on immigration," she said, referring to Obama's immediate predecessor. "He cautioned in this debate to be respectful of the people that we're talking about. That really not what's happening right now."
And as Independence Day nears, Pelosi said Republicans should remember that all Americans came from immigrants.
"As we celebrate America every Fourth of July, we have to remember our greatness springs from the fact that we are a nation that is constantly reinvigorated with newcomers," she said. "I don't know if [Congressional Republicans] were all sprung from the head of Zeus, or maybe they're Native Americans, bless their hearts, but somebody came from someplace for them to be here right now."