On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing, chaired by Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): “Securing the Border: Addressing the Root Causes of Central American Migration to the United States.” The hearing consisted of two panels. The witnesses for the first panel were: William Kandel, an analyst of immigration policy from the Congressional Research Service; Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary at the State Department; Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator for Latin America and Caribbean at the US Agency for International Development; and Eric Olson, Associate Director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Witnesses for the second panel were: Alan Bersin, an acting assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security; Francisco Palmieri, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department; and Kenneth Tovo, a deputy Commander at the Department of Defense.
The first panel explored the factors that led to the crisis originally and also highlighted how the crisis has not been resolved, even if it is less intense than it was last summer. Mr. Noriega mentioned that, while the Obama Administration cites a 42 percent reduction in the numbers of UACs from its height last year as a reason to believe the crisis over, that rate is still 12 times higher than it was in 2011. Therefore, even if the UAC apprehension numbers are not at the levels of the worst part of the crisis, they still exceed historical levels before 2011. He also said that looking a chart of how many UACs came in each year, it’s very difficult to pretend the Obama Administration’s policies were not a significant “pull factor” in incentivizing people to come. The people who are coming have the notion that, once they get to the United States, they are “home free.” If they come and they get a hearing date, they assume by the time their hearing comes around, they will get an amnesty. Senator Johnson pointed out, and Mr. Kandel affirmed, that out of tens of thousands of UACs who came, only 1,400 were returned to their homes.
Mr. Franco agreed with these points. He also called out politicians who make the claim that Latinos do not respect the rule of law for falsely claiming that Hispanic Americans are unlike other Americans in wanting to reward lawlessness. Enforcing the law, he said, would send a clear message. He explained that coyotes who smuggle illegal aliens pay a lot of attention to what is happening in the U.S. with immigration law, and the people who are coming are practical. It is not that they respond to the nuance of what the president says specifically, but they pay attention to whether people are actually returned or not, and they respond accordingly. As long as executive amnesty is in effect, our advertising won’t work, in his opinion. Mr. Noriega also mentioned that human smuggling is a $6 billion business.
The second panel focused more on what should be done to change life in Central America, namely how to work to fix corruption there. Several of the witnesses suggested that failure to pass Obama proposals such as his request for emergency funding last summer, or the Gang-of-Eight Bill, were the reason the crisis wasn’t resolved. Senator Johnson asked what exactly in the Gang-of-Eight bill would have reduced illegal immigration—saying that bills have passed in the past that claimed to solve that problem, but didn’t do such a thing (like in 1986). None of the witnesses provided a clear answer. For example, Mr. Palmieri suggested that if a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill were passed, smugglers would no longer be able to “distort” what would be illegal aliens would be entitled to upon arriving in the United States, but he did not really explain why passing a law would have such an effect on people whose business model is breaking American laws.