Pelosi: ‘I’m Like a Lioness' When It Comes to Protecting Children

By Brittany M. Hughes | July 11, 2014 | 12:01pm EDT

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (AP)

( -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday described herself as a “lioness” when it comes to protecting children.

She also called not only for the U.S. government to process minors arriving illegally from Central America on a “case-by-case basis" but for the government to “treat the Mexican kids the way they treat the non-contiguous country kids.”

“Quite frankly, I would rather they treat the Mexican kids the way they treat the non-contiguous country kids,” Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday, claiming that sending these children back to their home countries would be like “sending them back into a burning building.”

"As you probably know by now, that when it comes to the children from my standpoint, I'm like a lioness," she said. "Just don't mess with the children, okay?"

Pelosi also stressed that the illegals crossing at the Southwest U.S. border was “not a question of the border not being secure” because “the children are turning themselves in,” and that she cares about the children and “about them going home.”   Also, said the former House Speaker, “I care about securing the border.”

Since October of last year, more than 52,000 unaccompanied children have illegally crossed the southern U.S.-Mexico border, the Department of Homeland Security reports. “Unaccompanied” simply means they crossed the border without a parent. Many have crossed with extended relatives, while still others, many of them either teenagers or claiming to be teenagers, have crossed alone.

The total number of unaccompanied minors makes up less than a third of the more than 181,000 illegal aliens who have poured across the border in the last 10 months, a crisis that has been escalating since February.

A Border Patrol agent stands on a ranch fence line with children taken into custody in South Texas brush country north of Laredo, Texas. (AP Photo)

Currently, Mexican children who cross the border illegally are immediately sent back to their home country, whereas children from other Central American nations are detained, processed, and often sent to relatives already living elsewhere in the United States.

According to the Los Angeles Times, about 11,000 Mexican minors have been bused back across the border since October, leaving more than 40,000 still in the United States.

Pelosi said the Mexican minors should be given the same "due process" that minors from other nations are given before being deported, including having their case heard and "refugee" status determined by an immigration judge.

Even without the thousands of Mexican children who have reportedly been sent home, thousands of illegal aliens are currently being held for up to a week in overcrowded makeshift detention centers along the border in southern Texas, where the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process them cannot keep up with the flood of people sweeping across the Rio Grande every day.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which is legally required to take responsibility for unaccompanied minors after 72 hours, has become backlogged with too many children and no place to put them, leaving them to wait for days in converted warehouses and bus depots before being pushed through the system.

In this June 20, 2014 photo, a woman is helped from one boxcar to another, as Central American migrants wait atop the train they were riding north, hours after it suffered a minor derailment in a remote wooded area outside Reforma de Pineda, Chiapas state, Mexico.  (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Given a lack of long-term housing and an inadequate number of available immigration judges, most children are eventually sent by bus or train to relatives in the United States, with little chance of being deported.

Pelosi also said she believes ”legitimate refugee” cases should be handled in a person’s home country before they try to enter the United States.

“What I would like to see is to have in-country processing in countries where violence is taking place, in Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador,” Pelosi told reporters. “Instead of families sending their child through the desert of Mexico and into the United States, why don’t we have in-country processing to say, ‘You really don’t have a well-founded … it’s not going to work for you. So don’t risk your life for something you’re not understanding.’”

“If you were in a similar situation, you’d rather have a lawyer plead your case than you plead your case,” she said. “You’d rather have someone who knows the law deal with it. Some of these kids, they don’t speak English, they don’t even speak Spanish. They speak an indigenous language.”

“If we’re going to address the humanitarian crisis, we can do so in-country,” Pelosi said.

Pelosi added she believes the southern U.S. border, where more than 181,000 immigrants have crossed since October of last year, is secure.

“It’s not a question of the border not being secure. These children are turning themselves in. So whatever you think of it, it is a humanitarian issue,” Pelosi maintained.

Pelosi claimed the “humanitarian challenge” could be easily solved if Congress would simply approve the $3.7 billion in emergency funds President Barack Obama requested to address the crisis.

“In the meantime, we have a challenge that we must meet, and the supplemental [funding] takes us a long way toward meeting that humanitarian challenge that is there, having the process to send those back who should go back, and also helping our border security and helping to secure our borders from others who might exploit the situation,” she said, adding that “it’s about the children.”

“Any question that people have about if these people should go back, the answer to all the questions is the supplemental [funding],” Pelosi said . “I care about the children – the supplemental. I care about them going home. They should have due process. It’s in the bill. I care about securing the border. It’s in the bill.”

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