What I Saw at the Border-by Michael Cloud
This past week I visited the Texas-Mexico border for an updated look at the situation and can confirm that this is certainly not a “manufactured crisis” – our border agencies are overwhelmed.
Here in Texas, most of us have understood the situation for a long time. But talking to representatives from other states, I realized that many of them did not have that same firsthand understanding of the depth of the crisis. So I appreciated two other representatives joining me on this trip: Jody Hice (R-GA) and Glenn Grothman (R-WI). Both have been strong supporters of border security and made this trip a priority.
What we saw was an overworked and vastly underfunded Border Patrol trying to deal with an overwhelming flood of migrants and dangerous criminal cartels.
On a previous trip to the border, Border Patrol leadership expressed that they did not have the technology or manpower even to know what the cartels were doing, much less to stop it.
Since then, the situation has only gotten worse.
40-50 percent of Border Patrol agents in the sectors we visited had been reassigned to process asylum seekers - essentially to do paperwork. Cameras (acquired in the 1990s) in the Laredo sector cover only a small fraction of their assigned territory.
Cartel/smuggler fees just for migrants crossing in the Rio Grande Valley Sector are estimated at about $80 million each week. The Border Patrol’s budget in that sector is around $13 million per year. There is no way to compete with that kind of funding mismatch.
On a late-night tour of hot spots along a section of the Rio Grande controlled by the Zetas, we found constant cartel traffic that overwhelmed the undermanned Border Patrol.
“One of the things we’re seeing in this area is that we are not conducting border security operations any longer,” said one of the agents who accompanied us to the river. “Most of our agents are now dedicated to transporting, feeding, and caring for these families that are coming across.”
What we found in talking with Border Patrol agents was a group of good-hearted, dedicated individuals working very hard to protect people, despite being vastly outmanned and underfunded compared to the cartels.
This situation is unsustainable. A phrase we heard repeatedly from Border Patrol agents was “no end in sight.” What is already a crisis will only get worse unless Congress acts.
I recently sent a letter to the White House highlighting seven actions the President’s administration could take right now to ease the immediate crisis. This letter was the product of weeks of research by my office and others to determine what administrative actions could immediately be taken within the confines of current law.
One of those actions would be training Border Patrol agents to conduct “credible fear” interviews when they apprehend asylum seekers. Currently, many asylum seekers are apprehended and then released with a notice to appear (years later, thanks to a 700,000 case backlog) in court, but they often disappear before their court date. Providing Border Patrol with the training and resources to conduct these interviews would prevent these unnecessary releases.
The administration could also terminate the Flores Settlement, a legal agreement which essentially mandated a catch-and-release approach for family units. This has created a tremendous incentive for adult migrants to bring children along for the dangerous journey across Mexico, during which 30-40 percent of young girls are sexually abused. Border Patrol has identified more than 3,000 fake family units in the past six months and says that children are often “rented” to get adults into the country. Family units will continue to overwhelm our border agencies until the Flores Settlement is ended.
But ultimately, Congress will have to act in at least two key areas: reforming our broken asylum system and providing Border Patrol with the infrastructure, technology, and manpower that they need to combat the cartels.
I will continue to work in Congress to build a consensus in these areas. Unfortunately, many members are entrenched in anti-border security positions for political reasons, but I’m working to find common ground to move this issue forward. Meanwhile, I will continue to press the administration for further action on this national emergency.
The situation at our southern border is not simply a developing crisis – it is a genuine humanitarian and criminal disaster that calls for dramatic action.