WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) proposed a solution on Tuesday for dealing with the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border: The Obama administration should violate the law and put them on buses back to Central America, he said.
The government is currently dealing with a massive increase of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. illegally across the southern border. Border agents have already apprehended 52,000 of the young immigrants since last October, and expect more than 90,000 in total by the time the fiscal year ends at the end of September.
A majority of the minors are from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, complicating the process for sending them back to their native countries. While immigrants from Mexico and Canada can effectively be turned around at the border, children from Central America cannot be. Under law, the unaccompanied minors must be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses them and looks for family members or foster care while they await removal hearings.
Rogers, though, said the Obama administration should bypass that law and deport the children immediately.
"Why aren't we putting them on a bus like we normally do and send them back down to Guatemala?" he asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who was testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee.
Johnson replied that the unaccompanied minors must be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services.
"Well, the law required Obamacare to be kicked in two years ago. That hasn't stopped the administration before when it wants to do something different," Rogers said.
Johnson was up against Republicans in the committee who blamed the Obama administration for the crisis. They questioned why the children had come in the first place and whether they would be deported in the future. They also proposed a few solutions, such as sending the National Guard to the border, putting up a fence and cutting off aid to Mexico and Central American countries.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said he was concerned that border agents would be distracted from their duties by caring for the children, and would then allow in "the Middle Eastern, the Asians, the Africans that are also coming into this country ... possibly to do harm to this great nation."
"If children can come across because CBP agents are changing diapers or warming formula or doing other things other than securing the border, then I'm sure that elements that want to do harm to this country can exploit our porous southern border also," Duncan said.
Johnson said he was focused on making sure the border agents were able to tend to their other duties, and noted that additional resources have been directed to the crisis. He repeatedly said he was willing to consider any option -- so long as it was lawful -- and did not rule out sending the National Guard to the border.
The Homeland Security Secretary also took issue with the idea that Obama's immigration policies are causing people in other countries to think children can cross the border illegally and stay in the U.S. He acknowledged, however, that smugglers may be misleading parents into thinking this.
"It's in their interest to create that misinformation, and I believe they are," Johnson said. "And I believe, therefore, it's imperative for us to correct the record about what is available and what is not to somebody who crosses the border today."
Johnson wrote an open letter last weekend discouraging parents from sending their children across the U.S. border illegally, telling them the journey is unsafe and there are no "free passes at the end."