WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers on Sunday stepped up calls to secure the U.S. border with Mexico before proceeding with changes to the country's immigration policies, linking the issue to a recent surge of illegal children.
Republican U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, described "nothing less than refugee camps" in his state where a flood of children has been arriving illegally.
"I believe the failed border security strategy has resulted in this and I believe the message is if you came to the United States, you can stay, and that encourages," McCaul said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
From October to June 15, 52,000 unaccompanied children arrived on the U.S. border with Mexico, according to the Department of Homeland Security. President Barack Obama has called the issue an urgent humanitarian crisis.
Republicans have blamed the influx of children on Obama's 2012 decision to give temporary relief from deportation to some young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
The Obama administration has sought to stem the flow of migrant children by investing in speedier deportation decisions as well as committing millions of dollars to improve security in Guatemala and offering help to youth in El Salvador who are vulnerable to organized crime. [ID:nL2N0P1117]
Many unaccompanied children are believed to be escaping drug-fueled conflicts in Central America as well as rejoining family members who have already gone to the United States.
"There's a humanitarian disaster ... It's because you have a beacon, forgiveness, and you don't have a secure border," Republican Senator Rand Paul told "Meet the Press."
"I am for immigration reform but I insist that we secure the border first."
The U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill last year, but the measure has stalled in the House of Representatives where Republicans remain deeply split over what to do about the more than 11 million undocumented U.S. residents.
Many Republicans want to await the outcome of November's elections before revisiting the issue.
A candidate with the small-government Tea Party movement defeated Majority Leader Eric Cantor as a nominee for his House seat, in part by attacking him for his openness to legal status for some children brought to the United States illegally by their parents.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, newly elected to replace Cantor as the No. 2 Republican in the House, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the U.S. borders must be secure before Congress considers immigration reform and he ruled out a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
"I don't believe there should be citizenship," McCarthy said. "Until we secure the borders, because the borders are not secure, we're not enforcing the laws. And I think that's a reasonable position. Until that's secure, you can't have an immigration debate."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Eric Beech; Editing by Jim Loney and Andrea Ricci)