What I saw during my trip to the border
Washington, August 22, 2019
This summer, I traveled to the southern border to see firsthand the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers at the Rio Grande Valley Sector, in Texas. I traveled with the GOP Doctor’s Caucus, a group of health care professionals serving in Congress.
We met with senior medical officials and were able to tour Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities where migrants receive initial medical screenings before being transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where they will await adjudication of their cases.
With the number of illegal border crossings surpassing 100,000 for the fourth consecutive month, our existing facilities are overwhelmed. Considering these challenging circumstances, the migrants I saw appeared to be receiving sufficient health care and living conditions, to a standard with which we as Americans can be satisfied. I watched migrants cross the border from Mexico into the United States, and approach border patrol agents with a sense of relief. For many migrants, the hardest part of the journey is getting to the United States. DHS agents shared that in recent months, migrants from 60 different nations of origin have been apprehended crossing the southern border.
Border patrol agents respectfully approached refugees of all ages to begin processing, administer health screenings, and provide medical care as needed. I saw appropriate medical precautions being taken to protect migrants and prevent the spread of illness. In an op-ed last year, I detailed the importance of health screening at the border to protect migrants and U.S. citizens alike. Screenings help prevent the spread of disease and ensure those who are ill receive medical attention.
The health care professionals and CBP agents at the facilities I visited should be commended. They worked tirelessly to administer care and manage situations that are unfathomable to most Americans. While I toured one facility, I saw six unaccompanied young children who were either trafficked or brought across the border by an unrelated adult under the false pretense of being a family unit. The children were being cared for – they were wearing clean, new clothes and were playing with toys. As a father of two young kids, it’s hard to imagine the trauma these children endured in traveling to and across the border. It’s even worse to think of what could have happened if the children I saw had not been found by CBP and taken away from possible abusers. It’s even harder to imagine that evil doers or cartels would steal or buy children to use and sell. In one case, a three-year-old was left to die by the individuals who used the child to pose as a family unit.
Cartels are actually being paid to arrange entry for migrants into the United States; DHS surveys found that 80 to 95 percent of illegal crossers pay smugglers for entry. We learned the preferred method of entry is posing as a family, which has incentivized human trafficking. This is because family units get different treatment upon detention at the border than individual adults, and cartels exploit that fact.
By law, children are transferred from CBP to HHS custody where they are either referred to immigration authorities or to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The backlog of immigration cases has a cascading effect of a shortage of space for migrants. As more immigrants crowd ORR and ICE facilities awaiting adjudication, CBP facilities are backlogged with migrants waiting to move along in their processing.
Fortunately, the day before my visit to the border, Congress passed bipartisan emergency legislation with my support to provide additional funding to alleviate this strain. The emergency bill we passed will help in the short-term by funding additional migrant care and processing facilities, shelters, and post-release services to ensure the safety and well-being of children, as well as funding for Homeland Security Investigations for counter-human trafficking operations. This funding is a start, but it won’t solve the systemic problems leading to overcrowding. Serious immigration reform is needed to actually solve the root of the problem.
Reform cannot happen without a willing partner in Congress, but instead of seeking to fix our immigration system and improve conditions for migrants, powerful Democrats have advocated for complete lawlessness and open borders. I wish I could say that is not true. As one border patrol agent told me: If we don’t enforce our laws, the cartels making money circumventing our laws will bring chaos and violence here. If we do not maintain laws that work, and actually enforce them, conditions for migrants will get worse, not better.
The time to perfect our legal immigration system is long overdue. I urge my colleagues across the aisle to work with us. We can do better, and we must.