Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, and Texas Governor Rick Perry agreed that the federal government is not telling Americans the full story behind the continuously growing crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border. Barletta questioned Perry during the first of two witness panels at a special field hearing of the House Homeland Security hearing near the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier in the day, Barletta and other members of Congress toured a facility housing the minors at a nearby border patrol station.
Barletta told Perry that he had earlier in the week raised concerns about plans for a housing facility for unaccompanied minors to be located in the former MinSec Center in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The organization evaluating the facility, the non-profit U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants, subsequently withdrew its interest in Hazleton, citing general opposition from the community. Barletta told Perry he was still concerned about other communities being asked to accept the unaccompanied minors.
"What are the health risks, in your opinion, to these children and to the community that they're going to be sent to?" Barletta asked Gov. 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?"
Gov. Perry indicated that he was not surprised by the negative public reaction in Hazleton, and in communities in other states, primarily because he does not believe the federal government is being honest about how thoroughly authorities are examining the incoming minors.
"I think these are all very legitimate and appropriate questions for people in the other 49 states as well," Perry said. "I don't think our government is being forthright, being transparent in the process that's going on. I think we've seen the reaction in Georgia, in California, in Pennsylvania, and I think you're going to see that in a lot of places from across the country."
"We're either going to be a country that respects our rule of law, or we're not. We're going to be a country that is going to secure its border, or we're not," Perry continued. "And if we're not going to be either one of those, then the federal government needs to stand up and say, "Here's the way it's going to be.' And my instincts are that the American people are not going to be particularly happy about that."
Barletta echoed the governor's sentiments, and also reflected on the visit to the intake center earlier in the day at the McAllen, Texas Border Patrol Station.
"I agree with you. 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," Barletta said. "I saw the human side today. These three beautiful little girls with their grandmother, who risked their lives to come here. I saw that and it broke my heart. 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 relied on his experience of serving eleven years as mayor of Hazleton, when he saw his city's population grow by 50 percent while the tax revenues remained the same, and realized there was an illegal immigration problem.
"What always stops me, when someone wants to talk about immigration reform, I always go to the background checks. How do we find information?" Barletta asked. "And if we don't do the due diligence to make sure that we are not allowing people into this country who will harm Americans, which I believe is our first priority of government, which is to protect the American people, then we're not doing our job."
"That's where it stops for me," Barletta 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."