Politics of immigration for Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal says it shouldn’t be too hard to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and the thousands of children who are coming into the country alone from Central America should be sent back to their home countries to be with their families.

Jindal, who traveled to the border this week with other Louisiana officials, has been a sharp critic of President Barack Obama on many issues, and the border crisis is no exception.

“What we saw was the result of the federal government’s failure to secure the border,” said Jindal, whose parents came to the U.S. legally from India in the 1970s.

In decrying the border situation, Jindal hasn’t focused on his own family’s immigration background — a move some have found curious.

“You would think it would be a natural for him to claim that with authority and speak from that point of view,” said Pearson Cross, head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science department. “For some reason, he seems reluctant to do so.”

But the border trip, Cross said, could be a move to earn political points as Jindal eyes a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “It’s a way to establish credibility and allow him to weigh in on the issue,” Cross said.

On the return from his trip Jindal had high praise for Texas law enforcement efforts — the state, Jindal says, is doing the job that the federal government has left behind.

“It has made a difference,” Jindal said of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s ongoing law enforcement surge on the border.

During Jindal’s boat and helicopter tours of the border area, the governor said he witnessed three groups of people trying to cross the border.

A small child was being lifted into a floating tube as a family attempted to swim across the Rio Grande. Another group was walking along a natural dam, and a third group was wading through shallow water. Texas troopers called Border Patrol to report the groups, Jindal said.

“If the federal government would get serious about this, if the Obama administration would make this a priority, they can secure the border,” he said.

President Barack Obama has called the situation at the border an “actual humanitarian crisis” and said most of the children are being caught at the border.

“They’re being apprehended. But the problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are,” he said in a speech in the White House Rose Garden about a month ago.

Obama has drawn criticism for not visiting the border, but at an event in Dallas last month, Obama appeared to take a swipe at politicians traveling to the border for “photo ops.”

“There’s nothing taking place down there that I’m not intimately aware of and briefed on,” Obama said. “I’m not interested in photo ops. I’m interested in solving the problem.”

Joining Jindal on his border trip were State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and state House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles.

Edmonson said he is concerned about a potential proliferation of gangs from Central America, as well as cocaine and heroin.

He blames lax border security, in part, for the rise in heroin use that has been widely reported in The Advocate. The number of heroin deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish jumped from five in 2012 to 34 in 2013. Edmonson said heroin coming from Central America more recently can be as much as four times more potent than what was previously seen in Louisiana.

“This is not just about Texas,” he said of the border situation. “They’re coming up through the border and taking a right turn to Louisiana.”

Jindal said he is concerned about the more than 1,000 immigrant minors who have reportedly been placed with sponsors in Louisiana, and the thousands of immigrant children crossing the border alone should be sent back home — despite concerns from advocacy groups about violence in Honduras and other Central American countries they are fleeing.

“Let’s follow the existing law,” Jindal said. “The most humane thing to do is help these kids be reunited with their families back in their home countries.”

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops is among groups raising concerns about what it sees as a “humanitarian crisis” affecting children who are seeking a better life. A recent report from the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime found that Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world. Guatemala and El Salvador — two other countries where many of the children are coming from — also ranked among the world’s highest murder rates.

“This tragic situation is yet another opportunity to affirm and work toward comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform,” the Catholic bishops conference said in a statement. “Such reform affirms the right of our nation to secure our borders and enforce immigration laws. However, Catholic teaching equally affirms that all people have the right to conditions worthy of human life.”

Daniel Schwartz, of The Micah Project, a New Orleans faith-based group, said his organization wants Obama to provide leadership in handling the crisis. He said he personally hasn’t seen the influx of youths from Central America in New Orleans, but he’s sympathetic to their plight.

“Parents have been forced to make very difficult choices for their children to travel alone to the states to find safety,” he said. “Our country stands for caring for all children.”

Neither of the faith-based groups would directly comment on Jindal’s trip or his remarks when asked by The Advocate to respond.

Jindal, who is Catholic, praised the efforts of advocacy groups when asked about their role during a news conference upon his return to Louisiana.

“I applaud Catholic Charities. I applaud the faith-based groups,” Jindal said. “If kids are here in our state, we are going to want to make sure they are well taken care of. We want to make sure they are fed. We want to make sure they are getting health care needs met. We want to make sure they are getting their educational needs met.”

Jindal said those families should seek legal channels, including refugee status.

“It doesn’t make sense to treat children from certain countries different than children coming from other countries,” he said. “If we do want to help folks, let’s do it legally.”

Jindal said the government’s first priority should be changing the message. He believes that, at the moment, the U.S. government is conveying to immigrants that they can come across “with no consequences.”

“Let’s stop the flow,” he said.

Jindal said he thinks the border would be more secure through the use of sensors and wildlife cameras to alert authorities when groups attempt to cross, as well as more officers patrolling the border.

“Every mile of that border is different, but there are techniques that work,” Jindal said. “We simply need them to secure the border. It simply has to be done.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.