EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – House GOP leaders are calling on President Biden to stop rolling back Trump administration policies on immigration enforcement or face an even greater migrant crisis than his predecessor come this spring.
The 13-member delegation led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, was in El Paso on Monday morning speaking with U.S. Border Patrol agents dealing with a volume of unauthorized migrant apprehensions not seen since June 2019.
They’re also worried Border Patrol agents are being pulled off of drug and terrorist interdiction duties at the U.S.-Mexico to help process tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors coming across. Some of those children carry name and destination tags allegedly attached to their clothing by smugglers organizing and profiting from their trips.
“It’s more than a crisis. This is a human heartbreak,” McCarthy said after touring the Border Patrol processing facility in Northeast El Paso. “We are watching what has happened in the past, those numbers broken. We watched a new facility that we never would meet capacity at 1,040, hit capacity today […] in April (when migration tends to peak), I can’t envision what it will look like.”
Democrats and some advocates called the El Paso visit — and the GOP theme of “disorder at the border by executive order” — a political stunt.
“President Biden has stepped up to the plate to clean up the mess left behind with bold and transformative plans,” said Sergio Gonzalez, executive director of the Immigration Hub. He said Biden has come up with a humane approach to immigration through “safe and legal” channels for migrants to enter the country and that Republicans would rather paint a picture of chaos at the border than work with Democrats on bipartisan solutions.
Politics aside, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show border agents in February stopped 100,441 persons attempting an illegal entry along the Southwest border. That represents a 28-percent increase over January 2021. Encounters with so-called family units — one or more adults with one or more children — have increased 164 percent, while 29,792 unaccompanied minors have been taken for processing so far this year.
Speaking at a clearing along the Rio Grande overlooking the border wall, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico, the Republican lawmakers said the country is already experiencing a security crisis and faces a security crisis on top of that.
The El Paso processing center “(is) beyond capacity. They’re having to build into the parking lot a makeshift facility,” McCarthy said. “But for all these unaccompanied children sitting (at the facility), there are 120 border agents that are inside that unit that are not on the border protecting. And a surge is coming.”
The minority leader and other members of the delegation said they were told by Border Patrol agents that unaccompanied minors are not the only ones coming across these days. He said people on the U.S. terror watch list have been apprehended at the border. They mentioned these individuals are of Yemeni, Syrian and Sri Lankan nationalities, but did not provide additional specifics.
The lawmakers said Border Patrol agents told them about seeing three children ages 1, 3 and 5 walk up and surrender to them. They said children that small don’t travel from Central America by themselves and that Mexican drug cartels are obviously bringing them across for a price and may even be sexually abusing some of them on the way.
The Republicans laid all that at the feet of the Biden administration, which has rolled back programs that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico, started releasing into the United States families who came to the country without authorization and allegedly preparing to also roll back Title 42. The latter is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order allowing the Border Patrol to expel unauthorized migrants to Mexico almost immediately after arrival, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said he was emotionally shaken after seeing some of the children at the El Paso Border Patrol facility.
“My oldest daughter is 20 years old, my youngest daughter is 7 months old. What I saw was unaccompanied children of all ages. It’s heartbreaking. These are your children you see in their eyes,” said Gonzales, who represents a district that stretches from East El Paso County east to San Antonio and south nearly to Laredo. “It’s sad and it shouldn’t be that way. We should focus on legal immigration, make a more streamlined process (because) what they’re having to go through is heartbreaking.”
He said the Biden administration has “empowered” the Mexican cartels with pro-immigration rhetoric. “We gotta stop with the rhetoric. We gotta double down on border security. Give our agents the ability, the resources they need to succeed (because) this is absolutely a coordinated effort,” Gonzales said.
‘All he had to do is do nothing’
McCarthy at one point mentioned that all Biden had to do to avoid immigration spikes was “do nothing,” meaning not rolling back the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program or releasing families with small children into the United States.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, took exception to the comment.
She said “doing nothing” led to suffering and deaths among migrants in the past administration and that Republicans have in the past used the threat of terrorism to advance their agenda.
“What the Trump administration did was not stop immigration, but create dangerous conditions outside our front door. Do nothing about the misery outside our front door is not okay. That is not what America is,” she said.
Escobar said the Biden administration has reduced the time it takes to reunite unaccompanied minors crossing the border with their families from about 90 days to 30 to 35 days.
But the Democrat did admit the El Paso Border Patrol processing center is beyond capacity and that migrant shelters that serve those who are paroled are full as well.
Escobar pitched Democratic proposals for immigration reform and the legalization of young undocumented migrants brought into the country as minors, commonly known as “Dreamers.”
“What we saw today is what we’ve seen for years. They (the Republicans) are not interested in what’s going one. They just want to use El Paso and the border to advance racism when they say migrants are dangerous, that we should be afraid of communities like mine that are (actually) much safer than communities far from the border,” said Escobar, who represents El Paso.