PHOENIX -- President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to help sort out the country's issue of an abundance of unaccompanied children who entered the U.S. illegally.
Sen. Jeff Flake joined The Bruce St. James Show on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR on Wednesday and said he's understands why the president made the request, but that he's wary of how the funds will be disbursed and used.
"I don't begrudge the president for coming up for additional funds; I think they're going to need them," Flake said. "My concern is that about about half of the money -- actually the immigration-related funds, far more than half of the money -- simply goes to HHS [Health and Human Services]. That's not to secure the border or to expedite deportation. It's simply to the agency that takes these kids and places them around the country pursuant to the law that we currently have -- that says that they can't be handled administratively; they have to see a judge."
The senator said the government needs to remain focused on cutting off the influx of people coming in illegally, or else the problem is going to get more expensive and difficult to handle.
"What we really need to do is stem this tide," he said.
He used an example from 2005 when there was an influx of Brazilians and the country detained them and sent them back to their own country, he said, rather then just placing them south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to Flake, the number of attempted border crossers from Brazil dropped by 90 percent within 60 days.
"These are close-knit communities. I can tell you if we want to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors, you put children on a plane back to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala," he said. "And then when the parents or the relatives who spent thousands of dollars to get them to the States see that they're coming right back, then we'll stem the tide.
"And that's what we've got to do. And I don't see anything in (the president's) proposal that will really do that."
Flake said an anti-trafficking law passed in 2008 is now being exploited as a loophole, and it has led to the dilemma the country currently has. He added that children who come from Mexico have a harder time coming into the country and staying -- based on current law -- than those who come from nations that don't border the U.S.
He said the Border Patrol recently conducted interviews over a two-week period with 250 minors who entered the country and found that 95 percent said they believed "they would have some kind of legal status." Flake said cartels and human smugglers are leading young border crossers to believe that.
"They're advertising in these countries: If you get across, you're home free. And so that's the main motivation. And so that's why we've got to stem the tide," Flake said.
The senator added that for those who a legitimate claim of persecution or danger their home country, it is important to treat them differently than average border crossers. He said an overwhelming number of them aren't coming in the country under fear of persecution, and he said the president would agree with that statement.
"I think that, obviously, we need to be concerned about those that have a well-founded fear of persecution," he added. "You just cannot have a situation where we allow everyone to come in who wants to -- who wants to make a better situation economically or otherwise. We can't do that, and I think all of us on both sides of the aisle recognize that."