California Mayor Alan Long on immigration: “The world showed up on our doorsteps”
Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) andMayor Alan Long, mayor of Murrieta, California, spoke with Crowley about the issue of immigration in the United States. Cuellar and Long discussed the influx of unattended immigrants, the legislation behind human trafficking, and the conditions of the facilities used to house immigrants.
On the topic of President Obama’s upcoming trip to Texas this week, Rep. Cuellar commented on POTUS’s decision not to visit the border, “…it would be nice for him to come down to the border. But, again, with all due respect, I think he is still one step behind.”
A video and a transcript from the discussion are available after the jump.
CROWLEY: Good morning from Washington. I’m Candy Crowley.
Immigration reform, both legal and illegal, long on the back- burner in Congress, but front and center across the country almost always. Today, two men involved in the headline this week, live from Laredo, Texas. That’s the Mexican border you see just across from him on the other side of the Rio Grande. That’s Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, and from the California town that screamed down busloads of undocumented children and mothers, Murrieta Mayor Alan Long.
Mayor, we will be with you in a moment.
First to Texas and Congressman Cuellar.
Let me ask you first for conditions. Your office was kind enough to send us some pictures of one of the processing centers that you visited. So describe the situation to me now, both in terms of the numbers of children coming across on a daily basis. Where are they? Who is taking care of them?
REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: Well, first of all, just this month of may, we had just on the Texas border, Border Patrol detained 48,000 individuals; 9,700 of them were kids coming in with no parents, so you can see that the Border Patrol is having a challenging time.
There’s just not enough facilities that can hold that many individuals, as those pictures have shown, and the other thing is not enough detention spaces, so, therefore, adults are being held and then there’s about 20 to 25 flights a week that ICE will send back to Central America, some from Laredo, El Paso and, of course, Brownsville.
But if you’re a woman, a mother with a child, then they’re being dropped off. In fact, every week in this area, down here in South Texas, about 500 individuals are being released at the bus station. And, of course, if you’re a kid with no parent, you’re being sent off to Lackland Air Force Base or some other places.
So, therefore, we’re seeing large numbers of individuals coming in. But let me remind you, Candy, this is the not the first time we have seen this. We have seen this in the 1980s with people from Cuba and of course from El Salvador. But we had a civil war in El Salvador.
And, of course, about 10 years ago, the Brazilians were coming in because Mexico didn’t call for a visa, so they were coming in through into the U.S. So, we have seen these type of surges before in the past, except this is a little different, a little different, because you got so many kids with no parents coming in with them at that time.
CROWLEY: And tell me — first of all, let me just make sure I have this figure correct. In the last month, so I’m assuming that means in June, 9,000 unaccompanied kids presented at the border, 9,000 in a month? CUELLAR: That was the month — that was the month of May. We’re waiting for the numbers for June, but they should be almost the same.
Just the month of May this year, 9,700 kids with no parents at all. I have seen them. I have talked to them. In fact, I was here with the first lady of Honduras. We got to see some of the young kids there at the Border Patrol station in McAllen. Then we went over to the Lackland Air Force and we got to see them where HHS, the Health and Human Services, was taking care of them.
So, we have seen them when — right when they are detained.
CUELLAR: And, of course, we have seen them when they are held at one of the facilities like Lackland before they’re turned over to a family member or a foster home.
CROWLEY: Right, and the reason that I’m — I stopped at that 9,000 figure here is, I want to show our audience some yearly figures that we have.
The source here is “The Los Angeles Times.” It printed an article this morning. And this is unaccompanied children appointed — apprehended from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.
In the fiscal year 2012, 10,000 for the entire year — then it doubled the next year to 20,000, and it had from last year to date 39,000. So, you know, putting that on top of you’re saying 9,000 are coming a month, why now? Why are they coming?
CUELLAR: Well, first of all, this just didn’t happen.
You’re right. I have seen those numbers. They have increased. In 2009, we had a little bit close to 6,000 kids. Last year, we had over 25,000. Of course, now we’re seeing a larger number at this time. When we were with Border Patrol, they tell us that a lot of those kids are coming in from the border of Guatemala and Mexico because there’s really not a lot of security down there.
And they’re — a lot of them primarily are coming in buses. I emphasize in buses. This is what Border Patrol intelligence is telling us. So, they’re resent over by..
CROWLEY: But why, Congressman? Why are — why are they coming in such numbers? What do you think prompts these numbers right now?
CUELLAR: Well, this is my opinion.
One, of course, we do have the poverty and the violence down there in those three Central American countries. At the same time, I think the organizations, drug organizations, smuggling organizations, many times the same people, are making a lot of money.
Look at this. If we had 48,000 that came in, in the month of May into Texas, just Texas, multiply that by an average of $5,000 — they charge from $4,000 to $6,000, maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less, $5,000 — 48,000 times five, that would tell you just the month of May, the organizations made $240 million.
And that doesn’t even include the drugs they’re trying to — that they have trying to smuggle into the U.S., so it’s a big-money situation, because think about it. Why are they all coming in through South Texas? A lot of it is because the organizations are trying to flood the zones and come in.
They know there is a law that says that if you are an adult, you’re going to be sent back. You’re going to be flown back if you’re a Central American, but if you’re a mother with kids or a child with no kids under the 2008 Human Trafficking Act, people are treated differently.
CUELLAR: As you know, if you’re a Mexican, you get sent back. Mother, kids, adults, you’re sent back, but if you’re a noncontiguous country like the Central American countries…
CUELLAR: … then the law says that you are going to be held, Health and Human Services, and they’re going to place you. And that’s the law that we need to change right now.
CROWLEY: Congressman, last question before I turn to the mayor, and that is, when you saw the video of protesters blocking the buses of the moms and the children or the unaccompanied minors that was trying to reach a processing center near Murrieta, California, what was your reaction to that demonstration?
CUELLAR: Well, you know, certainly, you know, I understand that anti-immigrant individuals have the right to protest and pro- immigrants have to — have the right to protest.
The only thing is, we got to keep this civil. When I — when we hear that some of the anti-immigrants were spitting on Lupillo Rivera, the Mexican-American singer, that type of aggression should be calmed, should not be taking place. We — people have the right to do this, but, again, the American public is frustrated. And, again, we can work on this, and we can get the detention spaces, we can remove them, take care of the kids, but remove them and put them in the right day — caregivers in those countries.
CROWLEY: OK. Right.
All right, Mayor Long, I want to turn to you now.
As the mayor of Murrieta, can you tell me — very often, anger — and we saw a lot of that in this protest — derives from fear of something. What was the fear in this case that caused — prompted people, not all of them from Murrieta, but prompted some Murrieta citizens to be so angry about this turn of events?
ALAN LONG, MAYOR OF MURRIETA, CALIFORNIA: Yes, you’re right.
A very small town here in Murrieta, all of a sudden, we had a national problem end up on our doorsteps. And we had some local residents with some legitimate concerns. I think most of the angry people that you saw protesting were from out of town.
Like I said, this is a national problem, and the world showed up on our doorsteps. We didn’t have a lot of answers early on, and there were some legitimate concerns, health concerns and humane concerns. People were concerned about the people, the immigrants coming here. Would they have proper facilities? Who is going to take care of them? How long is this going to be for?
And those were questions that we just didn’t get any answers to.
Mr. Mayor, you know, as you look at these protests — and I will grant you right up front I did not cover them — but, as you look at these protests, that it was the overwhelming concern didn’t seem to be, oh, my goodness, the poor children — that was mentioned — but the overwhelming concern seemed to be, go away, not here.
If this is an American concern, are you at all rethinking the idea that a town can turn away busloads of children without documents who are headed to a federal processing center?
LONG: Right, and absolutely.
You know, we live in a democracy. I can’t tell people who to do. We had a very large crowd. There was a lot of emotions on both sides.
CROWLEY: Right, but you could clear the streets, right?
LONG: My job was to make sure — we did.
And if you look at the film, the police — the police officers did intervene for the safety of the buses. They stood between the protesters and the buses. What the story didn’t cover and didn’t show and didn’t tell was, the police officers did not have the equipment nor the staffing to deal with the crowd. They had mutual aid on its way.
The Border Patrol made the decision to divert the buses before that mutual aid showed up.
CROWLEY: Congressman Cuellar, Mayor Long, I want you to stick with me now. I have to sneak in a commercial break.
Mayor Long, I’m going to come back with you. With hundreds more immigrant kids arriving every 72 hours to various places, would the people of Murrieta turn them away again?
I want to ask you that right after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hobby Lobby wins! Hobby Lobby wins!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Health care now!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Thousands of undocumented immigrants, now that they’re here, how should the government handle the escalating humanitarian crisis?
I am back with Congressman Henry Cuellar live from Laredo and Mayor Alan Long. He’s with us from Murrieta, California.
Mr. Mayor, just flat out, if this were to ever occur again, and it’s three busloads, 140 children, children with their mothers or unaccompanied children do arrive at Murrieta to try to get to that federal facility, would you ensure that that happened this time?
LONG: You know, our plan this entire time was to make sure we provided the safety for everyone, protesters on both sides and anyone who comes through the city of Murrieta.
And that plan still is in place. So, depending on what the Border Patrol decides to do, that really is up to them. But, again, our plan always had the safety of everyone in mind.
You know, I would like to talk about these human lives, because that’s really what this is about. And, you know, when you talk about this system and what this system is luring these people into, it’s horrific. The system that is in place right now lures these people into thinking they’re coming to a better place, but, on that journey, one-third of the females, some younger, in their teens, are raped along the way.
And that’s a broken system. We have to fix that. We have got to work together, Congressman, to fix that.
CROWLEY: Congressman, go ahead.
Let me just quickly, Mr. Mayor, if you will, just to try to get an answer to the question. Did you feel these children were not safe in Murrieta? I’m trying to understand what the answer to the question is.
CROWLEY: Would you try to clear the roads and make sure that whoever is on those buses gets to the processing center?
LONG: That was always the plan.
The buses — we expected the buses to enter the Border Patrol facility and the processing to take place there. What we object to is, we object to inhumane facilities. If you look at the Border Patrol, those are jail cells. I inspected them personally. It’s a jail cell.
That facility can only process 25 per eight-hour shift, and if you look at the numbers we’re talking about, I think immigrants would have been queued up in a facility that does not have the ability or the capacity to hold them long-term, and that’s just not right either.
CROWLEY: Congressman, your response to that? The mayor says, look, we just — our facilities can’t handle this.
And I take it that the Texas facilities are overflowing. Some of these children are in jail cells.
CUELLAR: Well, yes. I have been to those detention spaces. Many a times, they’re supposed to be only for a small number of individuals.
And, as my pictures have shown, that they — that they’re just being overwhelmed. They’re processing them as quickly as possible. As you know, under the law, Border Patrol should move those individuals out in 72 hours. And, again, if you’re a mother with children, you are going to be put at a bus station, 500 a day just in South Texas that they’re releasing.
And if you’re a child, then, of course, they’re going to send you somewhere else, Health and Human Services, after they’re being processed. So those numbers are overwhelming. And, again, keep in mind, this is not a Mexican problem. It’s a Central American problem.
CUELLAR: It’s not the first time we have seen a surge, and we should have been ready for this surge. The administration should have been ready.
CROWLEY: Well, I think you both agree the administration, you don’t feel, was ready.
Let me ask you, Congressman, do you think the president will get the $2 billion plus that he’s asking for to meet this emergency situation, with more help at the border, more social workers to deal with the children?
CUELLAR: Well, again, we got Border Patrol securing the border right now, as you can see behind us.
But the president has asked for some money. He certainly can move some moneys around, and we can handle that at the end if we want to. Again, let’s keep in mind, with all due respect to the administration, they’re one step behind.
They should have seen this coming a long time ago. They should have seen this a long time ago, because we saw those numbers increasing. We’re hoping that we can get that money, so we can provide more detention spaces, more flights down there. And, again, if we put those young children and those mothers and the right caregivers in those countries, I think this would solve — there is an incentive, there is an incentive that, if you bring a child over here or your child by themselves, you’re going to be let go.
And that’s exactly what is happening. Our immigration courts are so backlogged, there’s not enough detention spaces. And, therefore, this is the incentive that we have to take away. And that’s the 2008 human trafficking law that needs to be changed at this time.
CROWLEY: Congressman — Congressman, I want to give the mayor the last word, because I hear him agreeing with you.
CROWLEY: But, first, before I leave the congressman, President Obama is coming to Texas this week. As I understand it, at least thus far, he has no plans to visit the border.
How does that strike you?
CUELLAR: Well, again, it would be nice for him to come down to the border. But, again, with all due respect, I think he still is one step behind.
They knew this was happening a year ago, last year. And, again, they’re just over — they’re not reacting fast enough at this time, in my personal opinion.
CROWLEY: And, Mayor Long, to you for the — for the last question.
CROWLEY: You — you heard the congressman. You agreed with him.
Look, the administration wasn’t ready for this. The facilities are woefully lacking for children of the ages in which they’re coming across. But the truth is, they’re overloaded in Texas as well. They need to put them someplace.
You say that you don’t think Murrieta can possibly handle 140 children in 72 hours. They’re having the same problems in Texas. What do you suggest that, right now, setting aside who’s to blame and who was prepared and who wasn’t, right now…
CROWLEY: … where do those children go?
LONG: Well, let me just address one thing first.
Remember, they told us 500 per every 72 originally. Then it was 300. We started asking questions. What about the health screen? They assured us they were screened three different times. Come to find out that wasn’t an efficient process. They had to take — after traveling halfway across the nation, they had to take them to the hospital for high fevers and scabies and possible T.B.
These are the types of things where these people, these human lives are not being taken care of. And they should be taken care of as they cross the border. Our military is able to set up cities in Third World countries all over the world, and we can’t set up temporary facilities?
And like the congressman said, this happened in the ’80s. It did happen in the ’80s. We should have been prepared for it. And we should have a flexible system that’s mobile, so when this happens the next decade, we can take that mobile facility to wherever the problem has happened.
But the bottom line is, those people, those human beings should be cared for immediately as they cross the border, not shipped halfway across the nation, and then dumped on the doorsteps. If the administration in Texas can’t handle it, how can a town of 106 handle this problem?
CROWLEY: Understanding, it’s not like California is halfway across the nation from Texas.
But, again, just to the question, where should these children go now? We don’t have that mobile city they can set up. It’s not there. So there’s a now urgency to it. Where should they go?
You’re correct. And we are dealing with the federal problem. And that needs to be fixed, but that’s the long-term solution. The short-term solution is, once they’re here, once these people are here, we need to treat them with compassion. We need to treat them with caring hearts.
And I guarantee you, if a bus were arrive at the Murrieta Border Patrol, and those aliens were here, you would see that. We would treat them with compassion. The unfortunate part is, that never occurred. Again, this is a democracy.
For whatever reason, the bus was turned around. I’m not going to deal with that now. That happened. It wasn’t anyone’s call. What I’m telling you right now, if those buses were to arrive here tomorrow, and enter the Border Patrol facility, you would see what Murrieta is known for.
And that is a caring, compassionate community. I can’t speak for the rest of the world that showed up at our doorsteps. This is a huge national problem, and drew a lot of emotions on both sides of the protest line.
CROWLEY: It is a huge problem, as both of you, I think, have outlined pretty fully this morning.
I want to thank you both. Congressman Cuellar of Laredo, Mayor Long in Murrieta, California, we appreciate it.
CUELLAR: Thank you.
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