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Opinion

President Obama must engage with growing border crisis

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Immigration,Barack Obama,Border Security

Over the last 10 years, I have worked closely with Texas officials to address the many issues prevalent in border states: the trafficking of drugs, weapons and humans, illegal border crossing, trade, and economic development for border communities.

As secretary of state under Gov. Rick Perry, I was the chief liaison on border issues between Texas and Mexico, and I visited these ports of entry on a frequent basis. I worked closely with my counterpart in Mexico to strengthen and promote the economy for border towns and to find a way to ensure people who enter the U.S. enter through, and not in between, the ports of entry.

Unfortunately, the current administration has not only halted, but reversed any progress we have made by not enforcing current immigration laws, using executive orders to enact amnesty programs, and doing little to actually secure our border. The recent surge of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America isn't a new issue, but the immense volume and young age of those crossing is a national crisis and deserves immediate attention from President Obama.

Since I met with Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen, as well as Chief Patrol Agent Kevin Oaks and Deputy Chief Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz and leaders of the religious and business community in South Texas, I am convinced that with Obama’s attention, we can quickly and easily solve this problem.

Our Border Patrol agents are doing an incredible job, but they have been stretched beyond their limits. These men and women are trained to deal with hardened criminals — often drug smugglers and gang members.

Recently, however, they are equally tasked with tending to infants and children. They are physically unable to care for a child with one hand and deal with dangerous criminals with the other. Consequently, there is a significant shortage of social service workers to tend to the many children, expectant mothers, and families who require medical attention and other services that will help to identify who they are and how we can reunite them with their families back home quickly and safely.

Officials in Texas say the crisis at the border would significantly ease if U.S. authorities had more flexibility in sending people back and reuniting them with their families once they are apprehended. This would require repealing, or at least amending, a 2008 law requiring special treatment for children from countries other than Mexico or Canada. These loopholes only encourage more and more people to take advantage of the lack of repercussions.

After visiting a holding center in McAllen this week, certainly a heart-wrenching scene, I am confident that the compassionate response is to stop the problem before it starts. Obama must send a message loud and clear to Central America that if you cross our border illegally, you will be sent home. We are a nation of laws, and it’s time to stringently enforce them.


Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, leaves a classified briefing on Capitol Hill last year. (Photo: AP)
Our border may never be 100 percent secure, but the Obama administration hasn’t even attempted to get there.

That's why I recently invited Obama to meet with Texas representatives in Congress to hear about these challenges and solutions, especially since he refuses to visit the border himself. Throwing billions of dollars at a problem is not a solution, but that seems to be the only option he is willing to explore. This is a tremendous disservice to the thousands of Americans at the border who are working tirelessly to do what Obama will not do: address the problem.

We need presidential leadership, cooperation, and action. And we need it now.

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, is a former Texas secretary of state.
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