SAN ANTONIO – Congressmen from two different political parties agreed in San Antonio Friday that immigration laws on the books should be enforced, but disagreed as to the definition of the people crossing the U.S. border from Mexico.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of San Antonio refers to the border crossers as people simply trying to get into the U.S. illegally by getting around immigration laws.
"I think the most important thing is for the president of the United States to enforce current immigration laws," Smith said.
U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D) of Alpine considers some of them to be refugees fleeing violence in their countries, and thus eligible under a 2008 law to plead for asylum in the U.S.
"I believe we have to enforce the law as it's currently written until the law is changed," Gallego said.
Both want the same law enforced, but both have defined the border crossers in different terms.
Recently some 300 children and adults a day crossed the border from Mexico seeking asylum, swamping border authorities and creating a humanitarian crisis.
That flow has been cut in half recently, but the debate over how border crossers should be handled is still a topic of debate between Republicans and Democrats.
Smith believes most of them are not following immigration rules and should be sent home.
"The humanitarian thing to do, I believe, is to reunite them with their families in their home countries that they left," Smith said.
Gallego said their status as refugees allows them under U.S. law to seek asylum.
"All of that is contained in that 2008 law that was passed fairly unanimously by Congress and signed by President Bush," Gallego said.
Gallego admits that when that law was passed, nobody envisioned 50,000 kids showing up at the border.
It's something both he and Smith agree on: Something needs to be changed.
"This is a country that has sent people to the moon. We can fix an immigration system," Gallego said.
Congress is on a break now and will return to Washington in September.