Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday defended the presence of illegal immigrants in the country, and said they play an important role in the U.S. economy that should not be overlooked.

“Undocumented immigrants… are our neighbors, our classmates,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Regardless of how they got here and why they lack the proper documentation… they are 11 million people, and they play a crucial part in our economy and communities where they live.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. said Thursday that illegal immigrants play an important role in the U.S. economy, and cannot be deported. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“I don’t know why the House Republicans don’t realize that. If they did, they would be working to fix our immigration system.”

Reid spoke just one day before the one-year anniversary of the Senate’s passage of a broad immigration bill, and said Republicans have done nothing to consider the bill after a year. He said doing nothing would lead to more deportations, and “more families torn apart.”

In a radio interview Thursday morning, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said full enforcement of the law and deportations are exactly what’s needed to stop illegal immigrant children from flooding the southern U.S. border.

Cruz told the radio program that the anticipated flood of 90,000 children from Central America is a “direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.” He said quickly deporting these children is the best way to reduce the incentive for them to attempt the border crossing, which is a hardship that has also led to sexual and physical abuse of these children.

“I think we need to send them back to their families. We have to enforce the rule of law,” Cruz said. “If we were to grant these children amnesty, the consequences would be the same as the amnesty President Obama granted two years ago.

“You would see next year, instead of 145,000 children, 200,000 children, 250,000 children.”

Democrats have tried to dismiss the claim that more children are trying to cross the border because the Obama administration has indicated that they can receive amnesty once they arrive. Instead, top officials and Democrats like Reid have said these children are simply fleeing poor conditions in their home countries.

“They are fleeing violence, extreme poverty, and they’re coming because they’re scared, they’re afraid,” Reid said.

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