WASHINGTON – Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, fresh from a tour of the U.S.-Mexican border, said on Tuesday that the flood of migrants illegally crossing into the United States is a crisis requiring immediate action.
In conversations with border patrol agents, local police officers, charity workers and even a mother and child who had crossed illegally into the United States, Bachmann said, it became clear that the border is too easy to cross, too many migrants are being allowed to stay in the United States and she believes the cost of their care is too high a price for Americans to pay.
"I have studied this issue for quite a long time -- I thought I knew quite a bit about it -- but my eyes were really opened at the depth of the problems," she said in an interview Tuesday. "It is far larger and far bigger than what I had even thought before."
Bachmann described a system in which prospective migrants pay between $4,000 and $8,000 to sketchy international smugglers often associated with international drug cartels to take them across the border.
For unaccompanied children who make it across, they are housed, fed, and resettled in the United States, with relatives if available, as they await court proceedings. They are given medical care and enrolled in American schools.
"It's really a good offer for a lot of people," Bachmann said.
She spoke with one woman who traveled from El Salvador with her 4-year-old son riding in the back of a refrigerated truck with 34 other migrants. Bachmann said the woman told her the ride was "very comfortable" with truck operators turning the air conditioning on and off in spurts.
"She said she wasn't harmed, she wasn't assaulted," Bachmann said. "And she said in El Salvador, she had to pay for her son's education. And she said coming into the United States, she won't have to pay for her son's education, he'll have a free education."
Congress is currently grappling to find a compromise on legislation that could help address at least the immediate crisis of unaccompanied children flooding across the border. More than 57,500 have been picked up there since Oct. 1, more than double the number the previous year.
Between January and July, some 173 unaccompanied migrant children have been released to live with relatives or sponsors in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee resettlement.
"What we need to realize is that was not a one-time event," Bachmann said. "This will continue over and over and over and over, and the people that are coming into the United States are very expensive for the taxpayers.
"Again, they don't speak the language, they are illiterate, they don't have skills," she said. "If they come with a mother, the mother does not have a husband and so the taxpayers will have to assume the cost . . . Education, housing, medical, everything."
Bachmann said she was not sure if she would support a bill unveiled by fellow House Republicans Tuesday that would provide $659 million for increased border security, enforcement of immigration and customs laws, and humanitarian assistance.
The White House has asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the crisis, while Senate Democrats are pushing a $2.7 billion measure. It's unclear if a compromise can be reached by the end of this week, when Congress is scheduled to begin its August recess.
Bachmann said she wants to make sure the United States isn't continuing to offer inducements to prospective migrants. She said she wants those who are already in the United States to quickly start going through the deportation process -- and that includes children.
"I was told that answer by Hispanics in Texas living on the border," Bachmann said. "They said that this is only going to continue until we start deportation."