July 19. 2014 10:22PM

NH congressional delegation, candidates at odds over immigration

New Hampshire Union Leader

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is backing legislation to address the illegal immigrant issue by allowing for quicker deportation of children from Central America.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter wouldn't go that far, saying she favors speeding up the current legal processes for these children, who have overrun the southern U.S. border in recent months. And governors across the country are pondering a request by President Obama to welcome these children into their states.

The issue has sparked serious debate nationwide - spurred by Obama's request for $3.7 billion in spending - and local politicians have ideas for a solution.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen "believes the situation at the border is a humanitarian crisis,'' said spokesman Shripal Shah, "and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she will carefully consider the President's supplemental budget request once it is introduced."

Republican rivals for Shaheen's job and the seats held by Shea-Porter and U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster blame that trio and Obama for being "pro-amnesty.'' Other Republicans support new immigration legislation to tackle the problems on the border.

Governors across the country, meanwhile, are pondering a request by Obama to house some of the thousands of children.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Department has reported that more than 357,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants have crossed the border during the last nine months, about 50,000 of them children. The children are being housed in Arizona, California and Texas and are being met by protesters while being moved around as the government decides what action to take.

Obama has called the situation an "urgent humanitarian crisis" while trading barbs with Congress. He has taken criticism for promoting policies granting free services to illegal immigrants.

Ayotte, R-N.H., has publicly backed legislation introduced July 17 that would return unaccompanied minors to their families in their home countries. The Children Returning on an Expedited and Safe Timeline (CREST) Act, introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flak, R-Ariz., would also increase the number of immigration judges to more quickly dispose of cases.

"Any proposal to address the border crisis must include changes to current law to allow unaccompanied minors to be returned to their families in their home countries as quickly and safely as possible," Ayotte said in a statement. "This common-sense legislation would allow for the expedited return of unaccompanied minors no matter where they are from, expand the capacity of immigration courts to reduce case backlogs and establish other measures to help stop this migration."

Pro-amnesty policies faulted

Shaheen spokesman Shah said, "She is also reviewing additional legislation and potential changes to current law that may be needed to address the crisis. She believes that unaccompanied children from Central American nations should be processed for repatriation expeditiously, unless their lives are at risk or if they qualify for asylum or other humanitarian protections guaranteed by federal law."

Republican U.S. Senate challenger Scott Brown used the immigration issue as an opportunity to slam Shaheen for past support of the President's Dream Act policies.

"Senator Shaheen said that illegal immigrants descending on the southern border are fleeing violence based on gang and drug activity and that 'refugees' in danger of immediate threats back home should be allowed to stay in the United States. I disagree with Senator Shaheen on both the cause and the solution," said Brown, who voted against the Dream Act while representing Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.

"The crisis on the border is mainly the result of the pro-amnesty policies supported by President Obama and Senator Shaheen, which have encouraged more and more people to come here illegally. While we need to act humanely, these new arrivals should be returned to their home countries."

Bob Smith, one of Brown's challengers in the Republican Senate primary, said the country's borders must be secured. (See related story)

"We should not be giving amnesty to anyone here illegally," said Smith. "They are children, and they are being used as pawns in the immigration debate, which is unfortunate, but they must be sent back to their homeland. We have a right to secure our borders and protect our country from whatever threats they may bring." Senate candidate Jim Rubens recently told The Monitor in Concord that the U.S. needs to consider changing the law so children can be turned back at the border. He also favors building a fence along the entire border, and he does not believe in amnesty, he told The Monitor.

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Kuster said: "As Americans, we must work together to immediately solve this crisis. First and foremost, we need to send a strong message to these children's families that these attempts to cross the border are extremely dangerous and that we will not reward reckless and illegal behavior. In addition, we should partner with other countries in the region to provide humanitarian relief to those children who are facing extreme danger, and we should send the children whose safety is not threatened back to their families in their home countries."

Gary Lambert, a Republican looking to challenge Kuster for her seat, does not want to see the children remain in the U.S.

"I do not support amnesty under any circumstances. We are a nation of laws. Rewarding those who have broken the law is never a viable solution," said Lambert. "The border crisis going on right now is a travesty and is truly sad. It was, however, entirely preventable.

"The Obama administration's promise of amnesty and failure to secure our southern border have exasperated an already poor situation. The current border crisis shows us why it is foolish to even consider comprehensive immigration reform before securing the border - it attracts thousands more across the border in the meantime. I believe the most important step toward solving our immigration problems is revamping our border security to include more boots on the ground, greater use of technological assets, such as drones, and fencing in appropriate areas."

Jim Lawrence, a Republican running for the U.S. House, suggested amending existing law to discourage so-called "coyotes," paid guides who help immigrants cross illegally.

"Do as President Obama had suggested as recently as earlier this summer," said Lawrence. "Amend the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Law so that refugees from noncontiguous Central American countries can be treated as those from Mexico are. Doing this would sharply reduce financial incentive for coyotes to bring unaccompanied minors to the border."

State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, another Republican hoping to take Kuster's House seat, said she was "deeply troubled" by the situation.

"This crisis crystallizes two critical issues," Garcia said in a statement. "First, our border is not secure, and second, our current immigration system is broken. Due to Congress' inaction and insistence on trying to pass jumbled 'comprehensive' bills, we find ourselves in the familiar situation of President Obama asking Americans for billions more dollars to react to a situation that ought not to have occurred in the first place."

Garcia said she thinks the crisis has put states in difficult positions if they are asked to house the immigrant children.

"New Hampshire is a welcoming state that cares for the most vulnerable among us," said Garcia. "Yet, how can we, in good conscience, as state legislators or local government officials, agree to welcome individuals detained at the border when President Obama has refused to share the most basic of information? This is yet another example of where President Obama and his allies in Congress put state and local government in the position of bailing out their inept policies, and it is wrong."

William Hinkle, press secretary for Gov. Maggie Hassan, wrote in an email Friday that he had no knowledge of New Hampshire officials making plans to assist in the crisis by housing the immigrant children here.

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Shea-Porter, D-N.H., said, "We must secure the border and allocate resources to expedite the legal process these children go through.

"I expect to review and vote on House legislation to address these goals before the end of July," she said.

Dan Innis, a Republican rival of Shea-Porter's, said on Friday that he would like to see more emphasis put on determining the reasons behind the sudden influx of illegal immigrants.

"Why now?" said Innis. "The President has called this a humanitarian crisis, but these conditions have existed in Central America for years. Why the sudden influx now? There must be something behind it, but I don't think anyone's determined why yet."

Frank Guinta, another Republican hopeful in the district, said the crisis is an example of failed policies in Washington.

"Make no mistake about it, the President's emergency request for $3.7 billion is an admission that his policies have failed," Guinta said in a statement. "The border remains unsecured, and this de facto amnesty program supported by Congresswoman Shea-Porter has led to a flood of immigrants crossing our border illegally. This is straining municipal and state budgets while causing a grave humanitarian crisis as thousands have traveled in horrendous conditions to seek amnesty."