SAN ANTONIO (CBS Houston/AP) — A congressional lawmaker blames drug cartels for the surge of illegal immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told KSAT-TV that drug cartels control Central America’s human smuggling operations.

“Most of them say, ‘It wasn’t my decision. It was the smuggling organization that got us here,’” Cuellar explained to KSAT of what immigrants at shelters told him.

Cuellar warned that cartels could have more freedom to move their drug shipments with Border Patrol being overwhelmed with the influx of immigrants.

“It’s the smuggling organizations making those decisions,” Cuellar told KSAT. “They know exactly what they’re doing.”

More than 47,000 mostly Central American unaccompanied children have been caught illegally crossing the Mexican border into Texas since October. That’s left border agents in Texas overwhelmed and unable to process so many children. Within the past two weeks, more than 1,000 of them have been transferred to a warehouse in Nogales, Ariz., where they are being processed before being sent to shelters in various states and then reunited with family members.

Cuellar said he has been told by Border Patrol agents that they are spending 40 percent of their time dealing with immigrants.

“We cannot enforce our way out of this,” Cuellar detailed what agents what told him. “When our men and women in green say that’s not the answer, that’s very significant.”

Border Patrol came under fire last month after dropping off hundreds of women and children who were caught crossing the border illegally into Texas at Tucson and Phoenix Greyhound stations. They are then told to report to immigration authorities within two weeks.

Cuellar said that most of these immigrants never appear before authorities.

A Senate appropriations panel voted last week to give the Obama administration $2 billion it requested to handle the dramatic increase in child immigrants caught trying to illegally cross the Mexican border without their parents.

The money is more than $1.1 billion more than President Barack Obama initially asked for in his budget proposal for the Health and Human Services division that cares for and houses immigrant children caught alone at the border. It would effectively come from yet unspecified changes in mandatory programs.

The number of children found trying to cross the Mexican border without parents has skyrocketed in recent years. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of children landing in the custody of HHS’s Refugee Resettlement fluctuated between 6,000 and 7,500 per year. In 2012 border agents apprehended 13,625 unaccompanied children and that number surged even more — to over 24,000 — last year. The total is expected to be as high as 90,000 this year.

Most children caught crossing the border alone are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and cannot be quickly repatriated.

Under federal law, the children are supposed to be turned over to HHS within 72 hours. Most are then reunited with parents or other relatives already living in the United States.

Outside of the shelter in Nogales, the administration has turned to the Department of Defense to use three military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma to temporarily house other children once they are transferred to HHS care.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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