Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is strongly defending President Donald Trump’s strategy to stem the influx of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and calling for major changes in the way the U.S. handles immigrants fleeing danger in their home countries.
“We need to overhaul our asylum process,” Hawley said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. The senator contended that refugees are “overwhelming” the immigration system and are being “turned loose into the center of the country.”
A member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hawley made his appearance just after the president’s weekend announcement that he would be suspending his plan to impose tariffs on Mexico. The senator praised Trump’s strategy, which triggered a near-mutiny by Republican senators.
“Look, nobody wants to see tariffs levied against Mexico, but it drove them to the table,” Hawley said.
While many charitable organizations have reported that the children and families seeking asylum at the southern border are fleeing gang violence in Central America, Hawley described the situation differently.
“We need to protect the children who are being used by human smugglers as human shields,” he said.
The senator also contended that the wave of immigrants represents a financial boom for drug dealers.
“Let’s just get this fact out there. Every footstep on that border is money for a Mexican drug cartel,” he said on Fox.
His office told the Missourian he based this assertion on testimony before the Homeland Security Committee earlier this year.
“It certainly is known that if you cross the border with a child, you’re going to be treated differently, and so the smuggling networks, they understand that and they incorporate that into their sales pitch,” former Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testified before the Senate in April.
Hawley praised the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which would require asylum seekers to stay south of the border while their requests are considered, a process that can often take years.
“The ability to return these illegal immigrants to Mexico while their asylum claims are processed, it’s good,” he said.
Not all asylum seekers are illegal immigrants, however. U.S. law allows people who have legitimate fear of returning to their home countries to apply for asylum. In a letter sent this week to the Department of Homeland Security, the American Immigration Lawyers Association also noted that many of the asylum seekers are not from Mexico and many do not feel safe there.
Hawley also criticized congressional Democrats who “won’t even approve increased humanitarian funding for the border.”
The senator’s office, when asked to clarify this statement, cited a bill proposed by Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers to provide the Trump administration with additional funding for the border. The Democratic-controlled House rejected the measure.
In an interview with NPR, Rep. Donna Shalala of Florida said she and her fellow Democrats believe the money will be used to fund the wall Trump wants to build on the Mexico border rather than to help immigrant children in detention centers, where the administration is threatening to end educational, recreational and legal services.
Shalala said the focus should be on ensuring that children are not kept in detention for long periods of time.
“(The Trump administration) must move them out as quickly as possible to their families and to sponsors,” she said. “They’re using for-profit organizations that have every interest in keeping these children in detention.”