Washington (CNN) – As thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America enter the U.S. along the southern border, Sen. John McCain believes any multi-pronged approach to the crisis must include two key elements: sending the children back to their home countries and securing the border.
"There has to be a halt to this … and the best way to do that is for planeloads of these young people to be returning to the country of origin and their families," the Arizona Republican told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
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"As tragic and as terrible as this situation is, we cannot have an unending flow of children from all over the world, much less Central America, into our country."
McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, also of Arizona, are sponsoring a bill to speed up the process of returning the child immigrants to noncontiguous countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Most of the over 50,000 children who've come to the U.S. since October are from those nations.
Many of the children have fled violence, including rape, gang activity and drug wars. And there is fear about sending them back to those dangers. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently said: "When you have an 8- or 9-year-old girl who is being raped by gangs that are sending them up here, or they're being sent by their parents to escape that kind of violence, I'm not sure Americans all really feel that we should immediately send them back."
To that, McCain shot back.
"In all due respect to my colleague in the Senate and others, are they ignoring what's happening to these children on the way up?" the senator said. "Are they ignoring the rapes, the death, the riding on the top of a train and the deaths and injury?"
Noting that many people around the world face similarly dire violence, McCain explained his case.
"The best thing to do is, if they have a case (for requesting asylum), we ought to beef up our consulate and our embassy and our capabilities, so they come there and present their case," he said. "And if they, if it's valid, then we will bring them to the United States of America - not showing up at our borders."
"If you come to our country illegally, you will be sent back," he added.
Regarding U.S. borders, McCain repeated something he's long said: They must be secured.
"Every nation has the requirement to secure its borders. Our borders are not secure, no matter what they say," McCain said.
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to help deal with the flood of immigrants. McCain was asked about the request.
"If we don't address the root cause of the problem, and that is sending kids back where they came from … then it won't matter how much money we spend," he said.