Solution to child immigrant crisis divides politicians

Is the southern border of the U.S. secure? It depends on who you ask.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in an interview on "Face the Nation," said the answer is no. He argued that the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America coming through Mexico and into the United States could have been stopped years ago if the administration had just listened to him.

In May of 2012, he said, "I gave the president a heads up on what was happening with these unaccompanied children, these alien children who were coming in on the tops of trains. And we laid out exactly what we felt was going to happen if we didn't address that, and now we're seeing that become reality. It could have been stopped years ago, had the administration listened, had the administration been focused on the border with Texas."

On the other hand, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., pointed to a falling number of apprehensions at the southern border and a rising number of deportations under President Obama to argue that a poorly-manned border is not the reason for the recent crisis.

"Governor Perry's just wrong on that issue," Gutierrez said in a separate interview. "He kept repeating, 'the border, the border, the border,' and he wants to put more National Guardsmen in and if he put more National Guardsmen in, the children wouldn't come. The children come...fleeing violence and torture, murder and rape."

"The border is secure. The fact is, the children are handing themselves over to the Border Patrol Agents, and under our laws, they must be treated," he added.

Gutierrez argued that "throwing money and talk about enforcement" won't solve the current crisis. Instead, the U.S. should put more financial resources into the judicial system and a comprehensive immigration reform program. Congress is currently debating a $3.7 billion request from the White House to deal with the flood of children crossing the border.

The two did agree on one thing: The president should have visited the southern border during a trip to Texas last week that included a meeting with Perry. The White House resisted calls from both sides of the aisle to do so.

"I just don't think there's the interest," Perry said. "You see a response from this administration that says, 'You know what? We're really not that interested in the southern border of the United States.'"

Gutierrez said he "absolutely" should have visited the border in order to articulate current U.S. law, which says that the Department of Homeland Security may not immediately deport children from countries that don't share a border with the U.S. and that they act in the best interests of the children.

"I say we are the strongest, wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world and children are coming into our borders and we should protect them. Now I will say this, follow the law, and the law said that we must put the children's interests first, which is what President Barack Obama is doing," he said.

But Perry said the best way to stop children from making the dangerous trip to the U.S. is to vigorously send the message that they will not be able to stay in the U.S. even if they make it here.

"If you have a patient that is bleeding profusely, the first thing you have to do is stop the bleeding, and that's the reason we have been so adamant about securing the border," he said. "Very quickly, that message will be sent to those Central American countries that you cannot send your children up here; you cannot catch a train or a bus or be coyoted up here, as you will, to walk across the border and you're freely going to be able to stay in the United States."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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