SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Stewart says it's an "enormous understatement" to say there's a crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico.
"I don’t think we have a crisis at the border, I think we have three crises," the Utah Republican said during House Budget Committee hearing Wednesday.
"One of them is obviously humanitarian, something that every one of us in this room cares about. One of them is security, and the third one is political. Our political crisis here in D.C. and our inability to fix this," he said. "And I think, frankly, the political crisis may be the more difficult of these to fix."
A photo showing a 25-year-old Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead, face down on the shallow bank of the Rio Grande, has once again elevated debate about how to address the border situation.
While members of Utah's congressional delegation expressed a sense of urgency about the issue, they were divided on emergency funding bills that passed the House and Senate.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said the problem is much deeper than what is happening at the border.
"While we clearly have conditions that are not acceptable at the border, we don’t talk enough about the conditions where these people come from and even worse the conditions they go through to get here," he said Wednesday on KSL Newsradio.
Conditions in Columbia and Venezuela — countries Curtis recently visited — are driving people out, he said.
“There’s not a single one of us that wouldn’t try to take our families and move to a better place and to find a better situation," Curtis said.
"The problem is too overwhelming at our borders," he said. "We have to go into these countries and work to stabilize them and have a better situation there because it’s not a realistic answer for every man, woman and child to feel endangered or can’t subside to come" to the U.S.
Curtis said though it "feels like a little drop trying to fill a pond," he saw firsthand how U.S. tax dollars are used to train young people how to computer program, giving them hope of a job in their home country. Americans, he said, should be pleased with how the money is being spent, while acknowledging not all of it had been used wisely.
"Every dollar we spend down there saves us dollars on the border," he said.
In the budget committee hearing, Stewart focused his remarks on human trafficking. Children as young as a few months old, he said, can be bought for $80 to be used by adults to enter the U.S.
"Some of these children have been recycled across the border 40 and 50 times," he said. "I just think it's our responsibility as a member of Congress to really truly do something to fund (the Department of Homeland Security) and (Department of Health and Human Services), something that we all know here is going to reach a crisis in the next few days if we don't have funding for that."
On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams was the only Utah member of the House to vote for an emergency border funding bill that prioritizes money to care for thousands of migrant children detained in shelters by U.S. border agents.
Curtis, Stewart, and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, voted against the measure, which passed mostly along party lines in the Democrat-controlled House.
The large numbers of migrant families arriving at the border have resulted in reportedly unsafe and unsanitary conditions for those in custody.
"Meaningful measures must take place to secure our border but treating people humanely and upholding the rule of law are not incompatible," McAdams said in a statement. "Compassion and human decency demand that we place children and families in shelters that meet basic standards for food, sanitation and medical care."
Congress and the president must act quickly to correct the conditions for people in custody and keep families together, he said.
Stewart said some of the rhetoric around the immigration issue is "cynical," "dishonest" and "intellectually lazy," he said.
"There's many of us who want to fix this," Stewart said.
Stewart said that as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, he voted numerous times to support keeping children with their parents whenever possible, describing himself as pro-family and pro-legal immigration.9 comments on this story
On Wednesday, the Republican-led Senate overwhelmingly passed its own version of an emergency aid measure, including money to cover some of the costs of the wave of migrants coming across the border. Utah's two senators were on opposites of the bipartisan vote.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the bill would provide much-needed resources for the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.
"But we urgently need a long-term fix that discourages illegal immigration by securing the border, closing legal loopholes, and instituting mandatory & permanent E-Verify," he tweeted.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was one of eight senators who voted against the legislation.