By Janita Kan
A coalition of Republican senators who recently visited the southern border is urging President Joe Biden to take swift action and reverse his policy decisions that they say has caused the significant surge in illegal immigration in recent months.
The ten senators penned a letter to the White House detailing a harrowing account of their observations during a tour of the border and immigration facilities in late March. The senators said they witnessed first-hand human traffickers in action and recounted a distressing case of child sexual assault of a girl who was trafficked into the United States.
“Our delegation’s tour of the border was eye-opening. We knew it was a crisis before we arrived, because we had seen the statistics. But witnessing it was different,” the senators wrote in their letter.
“From the coyotes heckling border agents on the ground, to the health and humanitarian hazards of the Anzalduas processing area, to the terrified and confused children in the unsanitary and crowded conditions of the Donna facility, to the struggle of local border communities near the Pharr bridge, what we saw convinced us that this is more than a crisis. It is a tragedy,” the group said.
The senators who signed the letter include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barasso (R-Wyo.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.).
The senators described appalling conditions and “cages” that children were kept in at the Donna Processing facility, and lamented the lack of COVID-19 measures implemented on the ground due to the sheer volume of unaccompanied children crossing illegally into the country.
“We saw a line of children who, having just been crammed into the crowded cages, were now testing positive for COVID-19,” they wrote. “Border Patrol agents were doing their absolute best to care for these children, but these officials are not social workers they are trained to protect our border. The conditions were, simply put and without exaggeration, inhumane.”
For the month of March, CBP agents encountered over 172,000 illegal immigrants, according to statistics released on April 8. This is up from just over 101,000 individuals encountered in February.
Among those who crossed illegally into the United States last month were over 18,800 unaccompanied minors, which is double the number of minors who illegally arrived in the United States in February at over 9,300 encounters. This is compared to 5,585 unaccompanied minors in January, and 4,993 unaccompanied minors in December 2020.
Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services (HHS) said earlier this month that about 20,000 children, mostly from Central America, are being housed in temporary facilities operated by the department, while around 2,500 more are still in CBP custody.
The average cost to care for a child in a permanent facility is $290 per day, HHS officials told The Epoch Times, via email. That cost jumps to approximately $775 per day for children in temporary emergency facilities “due to the need to develop facilities quickly and hire significant staff over a short period of time.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged last week that the administration had not anticipated the influx of illegal border crossings following its policy changes but continued to downplay the severity of the situation by insisting that the situation at the border was not a “crisis.” Her comments came after Biden, in a rare admission, used the word “crisis” to refer to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border.
The senators reminded Biden in their letter that the Rio Grande Valley sector chief and his team had previously warned Biden’s transition team about such potential consequences of his announced immigration policies and that the warning was not heeded.
“They warned that these policies would create exactly the crisis we are now witnessing. They told your team that your policies would result in a surge of illegal immigration bound to overwhelm CBP’s limited resources. And that is exactly what has happened,” the senators wrote.
Republican lawmakers have long argued that the burgeoning crisis is a result of Biden’s move to overturn several Trump-era immigration policies that helped curbed the flow of illegal border crossings. This includes his predecessor’s cornerstone Migrant Protection Protocol, which effectively ended the problematic “catch and release” policy, significantly stemming the surge of illegal immigrants that were seen at the southern border in 2019.
In a return to the Obama-era policies that facilitate “catch-and-release,” the Biden administration is again releasing unaccompanied minors into the country. The lawmakers argue that Biden’s act has been interpreted as a signal to prospective migrants to travel to the United States.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has sought to shift the blame on former President Donald Trump’s administration, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas saying that the previous government had “dismantled the orderly, humane, and efficient way of allowing children to make their claims under United States law in their own country.”
The senators also raised concerns about issues resulting from the surge, including a significant increase of contraband and drugs smuggled across the border due to the lack of resources to prevent smuggling operations by drug cartels and other criminals.
Citing statistics from CBP, the senators said the the Laredo Field Office reported that fentanyl seizures rose by 2,067 percent, cocaine seizures increased by 187 percent, weapons seizures are up 131 percent, and currency seizures increased by 64 percent.
“This confirms accounts that drug cartels and other smuggling operations are taking advantage of the disarray at the border to smuggle more drugs and weapons,” they wrote.
They are asking Biden to acknowledge the “crisis” at the border and “begin a dramatic change of course to humanely secure our southern border.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Epoch Times.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.