LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — As the national debate over immigration reform reaches a crescendo, horrific stories about the plight facing children coming illegally into the U.S. are emerging from an unlikely source.
Chris Cabrera, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent and spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, said Tuesday agents have seen girls coming across the border as young as 12 years old who are put on birth control "because they know getting violated is part of the journey".
"When you see a 12-year-old girl with a Plan B pill or her parents put her on birth control because they know getting violated is part of the journey, that's a terrible way to live," Cabrera said. "When you see a four-year-old girl traveling alone with just her parents' phone number written across her shirt. I mean, come on now, you know, something needs to be done."
Cabrera also told CNN about a 9-year-old boy who died of heat stroke last year "with no family around and that's because we're allowing people to take advantage of this system."
President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet Tuesday with congressional Republicans to discuss immigration just as the House of Representatives is set to hold votes on two immigration bills this week.
Critics say the Trump administration's so-called "zero tolerance" policy - which calls for prosecuting adults who illegally cross the border - has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents since the policy was implemented.
In a news conference Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the immigration crisis is not new to the Trump administration.
We cannot detain children with their parents," she said, adding that releasing parents with their children amounts to a "get out of jail free card" policy for those who try to cross the border illegally.
Nielsen says the issue has been growing for years and is the product of loopholes that have created an open border.
Homeland Security has been referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. The result has been nearly 2,000 minors separated from their families because children cannot be jailed with their parents.
Church leaders and lawmakers from both parties have called the separations inhumane.
Nielsen and other Trump administration officials say the separations are necessary to enforce immigration laws and have called on Congress to change the laws.
As for Cabrera, he says Border Patrol agents will continue enforcing the law until Congress acts.
"And let's be honest here - if we want this law changed, that's on Congress. That's on nobody else but Congress," he said. "They need to come in there, they need to get to work, and they need to change this law. Until then, us as Border Patrol agents, we have a duty to enforce these laws and we'll continue to do it and until they change this law and hopefully they will."
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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