U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta Thursday brought Hazleton to the Texas border and used a Homeland Security Committee hearing as a sounding board to raise more concerns about the recent influx of undocumented children in the United States.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry also testified at the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee that in addition to the humanitarian crisis created by a flood of unaccompanied child immigrants, there is a crisis involving border security.
Perry said more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October after entering the U.S. illegally — some three-fourths of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Authorities believe they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.
“We’re trying to deal with this on the federal level, but Mr. Governor, as the mayor of Hazleton for 11 years, I saw firsthand what a burden illegal immigration is on local government,” Barletta told Perry. “When I saw our population grow by 50 percent, but our tax revenue stayed the same … the quality of the services suffered.”
Barletta told how at his Monday news conference in Hazleton he “helped sound the alarm” to stop the potential relocation of unaccompanied minors to a property in his hometown of Hazleton, which had been identified as a potential housing facility for refugee children.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said the agency is no longer seeking a site in Hazleton to house undocumented refugee children.
Barletta told the committee that the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is looking at locations. Perry asked Barletta if he knew where those locations are, but Barletta said he didn’t know. An agency official had said this week the agency is looking at locations along the Eastern seaboard.
Barletta also told Perry and the committee that he is worried about a number of issues.
“What are the health risks, in your opinion, to these children and to the community that they’re going to be sent to?” he asked Perry. “And do you know, are background checks being conducted, not only on the unaccompanied minors, but on the adults who will take custody of them? Do we know if they’re predators, do we know anything about them? If they’re gang members? Anything about their background?”
Perry said all of Barletta’s concerns were “very legitimate and appropriate questions for people in the other 49 states as well.” Perry went on to say he doesn’t think the U.S. government is being forthright or transparent in the process that’s going on.
Perry said until the border is secured, all other conversations “that folks want to have about immigration reform” are going to fall on deaf ears with the country.
Barletta agreed with Perry, stating, “The problem starts in Washington, and ends up on the border, and ends up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and across the country for everyone to try to deal with.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said quick deportations of the children back to countries that have been unable to protect them would not be “humane.”
Barletta said he saw the human side Thursday — three beautiful little girls with their grandmother, who risked their lives to come here.
“I saw that and it broke my heart,” Barletta said. “But there’s also the realist in me who also saw others who could be here not for good reasons. And that’s what I’m concerned about, because there will be innocent Americans every time who pay the price.”
Barletta went on to say that due diligence must be done to assure a criminal element is not allowed into the United States.
“That’s where it stops for me,” he said. “And I’m not convinced that we know enough about the children that are here. I do believe that most are here because there’s somebody in the country here already illegally, which is caused by not enforcing our immigration laws. We’ve created another crisis now with the children.”
Perry called the situation a serious national security issue and a humanitarian crisis.