The good news is that after months of insisting the humanitarian crisis on the border was a “manufactured crisis,” House leadership has finally acknowledged the severity of the situation after widespread reports this week of children detained in appalling conditions.
The bad news is that – even now – House leadership cannot bring itself to support real solutions, instead holding a show vote on a bill that would ultimately make the problems worse.
Under pressure to do something – anything – House leadership hijacked an attempt to provide $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid by loading their version of the bill with harmful new restrictions on border enforcement. They turned an effort to help children – a chance for actual bipartisan agreement – into a display of phony compassion.
But lawlessness is not compassion.
For starters, criminal cartels are taking advantage of the chaos to traffic humans, including children, into our country. 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.
When Border Patrol encounters these children and other unaccompanied minors, they work to verify the identity of any adult who comes to collect the child. This is common sense when fighting human trafficking and sex slavery. But this bill would not allow for border agents to ask the necessary questions to ensure that these children are being handed over to actual family members.
The bill would also cut overtime payments for ICE agents and limit the government’s ability to surge employees to the border to deal with the overwhelming influx of migrants. Last month, Border Patrol encountered over 144,000. But agents are already exhausted, and protection efforts are already stretched to the breaking point. A few nights ago, for example, Border Patrol had only 10 agents combating cartel efforts along a 68-mile stretch in the Rio Grande Valley.
Furthermore, the bill does nothing to solve catch-and-release policies that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of migrants released into the U.S. before ever having a hearing.
It does not include funding for human trafficking investigations. It does not provide more immigration judges, despite a 700,000 case backlog and years-long delays before asylum-seekers’ cases can be heard. It underfunds ICE and provides no additional beds, which as this week demonstrated, are desperately needed.
It creates the misperception that something is being done while offering no real solutions.
This bill is not even a band-aid; it is merely a smokescreen.
Having visited border shelters recently, I can confirm the overcrowding. The agencies responsible for border shelters are running out of money even to provide migrants with basic necessities.
Children should not be detained in these conditions in the United States of America; that said, attempts to demonize our border agents are completely unfounded, when it is Congress that is squarely to blame.
The day this bill was introduced in the House, I sat down with the president and a few other solution-oriented members of Congress to discuss better options. My office led an effort to research steps the president’s administration could take within the confines of current law, and I encouraged the president to take action in several areas.
One of those areas is 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 in court, but 44 percent of the time they disappear before their court date. Having Border Patrol conduct these interviews would speed the asylum process and help prevent these unnecessary releases.
The administration could also terminate the Flores Settlement, a legal agreement which essentially required 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. As noted, these children are sometimes rented or purchased by the adults they travel with. Until the Flores Settlement is ended, adult migrants and cartels will continue to take advantage of children and overwhelm our border agencies.
While the fact that House leadership no longer denies the existence of the border crisis is progress of a sort, their proposed “solution” is at best naive and misinformed. At worst, it is an intentional effort to continue to undermine our immigration laws, overwhelm our border protection system and prevent real enforcement. This is a genuine humanitarian crisis that calls for dramatic action, but this bill fails to offer real solutions and will allow cartels to continue to profit from the suffering at our border.