Sen. Cornyn: Refugee influx demands broad response

Sen. John Cornyn talks about the influx of child refugees from Central America with (left to right) Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Director David Hardage, Christian Life Commission Director Gus Reyes and former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez. (PHOTO/Kalie Lowrie/Texas Baptist Communications)

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MCALLEN—The flood of Central American children surging through Mexico into the United States has created an escalating humanitarian crisis that demands the best responses from both the faith community and government, Sen. John Cornyn said at a news conference in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

john cornyn podium300Sen. John Cornyn spoke to the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas meeting in McAllen. Cornyn had toured the lower Rio Grande Valley and witnessed what he called the “humanitarian crisis” caused by a flood of Central American refugee children surging through Mexico into the United States. (PHOTO/Kalie Lowrie/Texas Baptist Communications)Cornyn, R-Texas, spent several hours touring the region, escorted by Albert Reyes, president of Buckner International. They visited colonias along the Rio Grande, where the Texas Baptist ministry serves children and families, seeking to develop impoverished communities. The area is ground zero for the child-refugee crisis.

Cornyn then met with reporters moments before the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas began its annual meeting at the McAllen Convention Center.

“The infusion of young children from Central America is a humanitarian crisis,” Cornyn said. “Some may debate whether this is a crisis, but the numbers (of young immigrants) don’t lie, and they’re going up.”

The spiraling influx of children crossing the U.S. border is a complex problem, he acknowledged. But he identified the Central American cartels as the source of that problem.

The corridors used to smuggle people, drugs and arms between Central America and the United States are “part of the business model of the cartels,” Cornyn said. Whereas immigrants once arrived in the United States alone or in small groups, now they’re arriving by the thousands.

us mexico border425U.S. – Mexico border. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo)Children smuggled along those corridors are subject to kidnapping, sexual assault, murder “and worse, if there is worse,” he said, adding 60 percent of smuggled females reportedly suffer sexual abuse along the way. “The cartels care nothing about people. They care about money.”

“We were all shocked at seeing young boys and young girls who came (across the border) by themselves,” he noted. He described meeting a 13-year-old unaccompanied boy who arrived from Central America. The boy told the senator his parents are dead.

“It breaks your heart,” Cornyn said.

Local, state and federal officials have responded admirably to the crisis, as has the faith community, he stressed. Texas Baptist Men worked with the Border Patrol about two weeks to provide child care, showers and laundry service for underage undocumented immigrants detained in Brownsville until government contractors assumed the responsibility. TBM volunteers washed more than 1,200 loads of laundry and made available about 1,800 showers for the children at Fort Brown.

In recent days, TBM volunteers at Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen also assisted with laundry. “We anticipate TBM’s presence on the Mexican border will continue on an as- needed basis until the mass immigration is resolved,” said Terry Henderson, state disaster relief director.

tbm immigrantkids425Texas Baptist Men volunteers in May provided childcare for children detained in Brownsville who entered the United States illegally without a parent. (TBM Photo)After temporary detention in the Rio Grande Valley, the children are transferred to facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health & Human Services, which works with nonprofit agencies such as Baptist Child & Family Services to provide the young people shelter, counseling, case management and education. Officials seek to locate relatives or other adult custodians in the United States to care for them while the courts settle their immigration cases.

But government authorities and charitable organizations are swamped by the enormity of the situation, Cornyn said.

“The challenge is to bring order out of chaos,” he said. “We need to get this out of the hands of the cartels and establish rule of law.”

The United States must bolster the governments of the immigrant children’s Central American home countries. Those governments must bring order to their communities, restore the rule of law and exert control over gangs, he said. The United States also needs to help Mexico “fix its very porous border,” which provides access to the smuggling corridors.

border patrol drainage425An estimated 70,000 unaccompanied immigrant children are expected to be apprehended crossing the border in 2014. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo)Cornyn affirmed President Barack Obama’s request for a $2 billion emergency supplemental appropriation, which would help fund the official U.S. response to the crisis.

“I hope this will not become a partisan crisis,” he said, expressing appreciation for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s visit to the region.

Asked about the horrible nature of daily life in Central America, which compels parents to send their young children alone on the journey to America, Cornyn noted, “It’s a terrible choice for any parent to make.”

Jesse Rincones, a Lubbock pastor, attorney and executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, introduced Cornyn to the reporters.

“Our convention does not endorse (political) parties,” Rincones said. The convention works alongside others whose motivation is compassion, who seek to follow Jesus’ commands to serve the poor and vulnerable, he added.

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