Bill Nelson: Sequester cuts led to immigration border crisis

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There's been a lot of discussion in the past couple of weeks about causes of the immigration crisis along the Southwest Texas border, but mandated federal budgets due to the sequester hadn't been mentioned as one of them — until today.

"The root cause is because the drug lords have basically taken over Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and part of the reason that has occurred is the sequester or the severe cuts to the federal budget have lessened our efforts in working with our international partners in interdicting those big shipments of the drug trade," Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said at a press conference in Tampa today.

The federal sequester that officially began in the spring of 2013 initially resulted in federal agencies being mandated to make $85 billion in spending cuts through the end of September of last year. A top military commander testified in April of this year that those cuts have eroded the U.S. Coast Guard's ability to combat drug smuggling, resulting in the agency intercepting just 20 percent of the illegal drugs headed into the U.S. from South America.

Senator Nelson says this has increased drug trafficking and the attendant violence in those Central American states, and thus created the desire for parents to send their children to the United States for asylum. "That has been absent from the discussion," he said.

Nelson says he visited the Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West a year ago and realized the problem was leading to increased undocumented immigration from our southern borders. "But you try to persuade people to cut out the sequester to give the military and the DEA through the Department of Justice and the FBI and all the other agencies, the Coast Guard, give them all the adequate funds to do this interdiction? And you see how hard it is to pass an appropriations bill."

Earlier this week the White House formally requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to deal with the  influx of Central American minors along the southern border. But the proposal has been immediately met with broad skepticism among congressional Republicans, a response that Senator Nelson today called "sad."

"In some cases, if the president's for it, they're against it," he said, calling that $3.7 billion appropriation "just a start." The funding would help pay for more detention centers to be built, as well as adding more immigration judges. When CL asked Nelson if more immigration judges were needed, he snapped that "what we need is an immigration reform law," saying that if House Speaker John Boehner actually ever brought the Senate's immigration reform bill to the House, it would actually pass with a combination of Democratic and moderate Republican votes. "If we had had that a year ago, you wouldn't be having these problems today," he said.

The senator reacted with disdain when asked for response to Governor Rick Scott's most recent criticism of President Obama, specifically for failing to lead on the immigration issue. "It is just pitiful, always blaming someone else," Nelslon sneered. "What we ought to be doing is coming together in a bipartisan way to solve the problem."

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