Texas lawmakers team up on bipartisan bill to combat humanitarian border crisis

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Two Texas lawmakers have come together on bipartisan legislation they say will address the immigrant emergency crisis on the border.

It's called the HUMANE Act. It's aimed at speeding up the process of asylum claims and hearings for undocumented minors who are at the border from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (R-Texas) paired up five years ago in 2014 to present the same legislation. However, it went nowhere in Congress. The men say its most needed now because of the crush at the border and the risk of more children being separated from their parents.

The numbers are growing of people from Central America being detained at the border. Many of them are unaccompanied minors. In February and March, there were more than 180,000 people.

“It has now gone from a humanitarian and security crisis to a full-blown system failure,” Cornyn said. “We really are on the brink of collapse at the border.”

As border patrol braces for temporary housing of even more migrants moving north, Cornyn and Cuellar are bringing back legislation first filed in 2014 that was rejected by Congress.

“If we would have done something in 2014, maybe the numbers would have been smaller now,” Cuellar said. “Maybe we would have gotten rid of some of the loopholes that we have. Maybe it would have been different.”

The HUMANE (Helping Unaccompanied Minors and Alleviating National Emergency) ACT would streamline processing at ports of entry, keep family units together during court proceedings, improve due process for unaccompanied minors and allow unaccompanied children from Central America to be voluntarily reunited with families. It would also mandate 600 more U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents.

“Due process is protected. People can ask for asylum,” Cuellar said. “The only thing is we want their day in court faster. And one of the things that we want to see is see more judges at the border.”

Immigration attorney and SMU professor Eric Cedillo has taken students from the university to South Texas detention centers to assist with asylum claims.

“What this boils down to is a measure to create an expedited procedure,” Cedillo said. “Having the ability to really get rid of these children as quickly as possible. The introduction of new judges is for that purpose. To have their hearings and do these things as quickly as possible.”

But a South Texas homeowners group say they are overrun with people from Central America and they support the legislation now as they did in 2014.

“It was proposed at the same time for the same reason,” said Susan Kibbe with the South Texas Property Rights Association. “Because of Central Americans coming in and bogging down the system.”

The two Texas lawmakers admit their bill won’t solve all the problems, but add that it sends a message of no free passage into the United States.

“I think there is a grown sense of unease,” Cornyn said. “The status quo is not sustainable. This is getting worse every day.”

Cornyn and Cuellar decided to bring their HUMANE Act back because the immigration issue is becoming a trade issue.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Cornyn and Ted Cruz last week estimating that exporters are losing $800 million a day because trucks are having to wait up to ten hours to cross the border. CBP agents are busy processing and caring for the thousands in custody, causing commerce to come to a crawl.