Photo: Sen. Robert Menendez
The influential Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday categorically rejected any modification of the law to bypass normal procedure to accelerate the deportation of undocumented migrant children.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the key legislators in plans for comprehensive immigration reform, refuses to make legal changes in the asylum dispositions for unaccompanied minors from Central America, as some of his colleagues in Congress - both Republicans and Democrats - have proposed.
“I understand the desire to accelerate the process, but accelerating without due process is not acceptable,” he said at the opening of a committee hearing on the immigration crisis on the southern border.
“I oppose the changing of the existing law. There is a reason why that law was passed. It was passed to say that non-contiguous nations, if you are fleeing 2,000 miles to try to come to the United States, there may be a greater probability that you have a real case to be made for asylum, because you have a credible fear for the loss of your life,” Menendez said.
“Now if you flee 2,000 miles and you were told by the gangs join or die, if you were raped and you flee 2,000 miles not to ever experience that tragic and traumatic set of circumstances. You don’t come with anything but the clothing on your back. And when you get here to the United States, you are going to need a reasonable period of time to be able to produce the facts to make that case,” he said.
The Cuban-American senator was referring to the joint proposal put together by two lawmakers from Texas, Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, which seeks to accelerate the deportation procedures for children coming from Central America.
Their bill would allow minors from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to be deported just hours after their illegal entry, as is already the case with undocumented migrants from neighboring Mexico.
That proposal stipulates that the children who are eligible for some kind of benefit in the United States, such as asylum, must appear in immigration court within seven days after having been examined by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.
If the judge decides that a child can present his legal claim, which must be processed in the 72 hours following the magistrate’s decision, the minor will be able to remain in the country in someone’s custody while his case works its way through the courts. If that is not the case, he will be deported.
The debate on the crisis has focused on this modification, which Republicans are demanding in exchange for approving the $3.7 billion in emergency funding President Barack Obama is seeking from Congress.