By Frank Fang
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) said videos he recorded at El Paso showed that the border situation is worse than it’s being portrayed, following the expiration of the pandemic-era immigration policy Title 42 at midnight on May 11.
“This is what I’m hearing on the ground from mayors, from Border Patrol agents, from embedded media, everyone is saying it’s not that bad. So on Friday, I visited El Paso and went to the Central Processing Center,” Gonzales said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on May 14.
“In the El Paso sector, there’s over 6,000 people that are in custody in this particular facility. It’s meant to house 1,000 people, it’s housing over 3,000,” Gonzales said. “In one of these rooms … the max capacity is 90 people; there was over 400 in here, that’s a 450 percent capacity.”
He noted that another room, which was intended to hold 120 people, was holding over 700 people.
“We can’t allow ‘not that bad’ to be the normal,” Gonzales said, before adding that an unaccompanied minor had died while in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services last week.
The Title 42 public health provision was invoked in March 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was put in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19, as illegal immigrants could be quickly turned away at the southern U.S. border, rather than be processed at immigration detention facilities under Title 8 immigration law.
There have been concerns that ending Title 42 would lead to a significant increase in illegal immigration. Anticipating a spur in illegal crossings, several south Texas counties have issued disaster declarations.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said U.S. Border Patrol had about 6,300 encounters with border-crossers on May 12—the first day after Title 42 expired—and another 4,200 on May 13. That’s lower than the more than 10,000 crossings per day before Title 42’s expiration.
On Sunday, Mayorkas warned “it is too early” to know whether the increased influx of immigrants has peaked.
Gonzales also called on the Biden administration to send more immigration judges to the southern border, as an alternative to releasing immigrants.
“The president should surge immigration judges to the border and that person should get their case heard in days, not years,” he explained. “Right now, in El Paso, if you apply on the one app, I was at the port of entry, if you apply on the one app, your court date is 2031. I mean, that’s eight years from now.”
He added: “The president can surge, instead of surging 1,500 troops, surge immigration judges. This is America. Get your day in court.”
The Biden administration announced the deployment of additional 1,500 military personnel for 90 days on May 2, to supplement the 2,500 already stationed along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Gonzales, who represents Texas’s 23rd congressional district, stretching from western San Antonio to El Paso, has been expressing concerns about the fallout of Title 42’s expiration.
Earlier this month, the Texas congressman voted in favor of the Secure the Border Act (H.R.2), an immigration bill that the House passed after a 219–213 vote mostly along party lines. The measure would restore many of the Trump administration’s policies, such as resuming construction of the border walls. It would also seek to increase the number of Border Patrol agents and strengthen the asylum process.
In a statement after the vote, Gonzales said the House bill “is a step in the right direction.”
“Unfortunately, and to my extreme concern, H.R. 2 falls short of addressing cartel activity at the southern border,” he wrote. “At the eleventh hour, my provision to begin labeling cartels as terrorist organizations was stricken from the bill. This common-sense policy would have paved the way for law enforcement to better seize their financial assets and strengthen criminal penalties on cartel operators.”
“For many of my colleagues passing H.R. 2 means ‘mission accomplished’, but the crisis at our southern border will not be resolved until a comprehensive border security bill ends up on President Biden’s desk and is signed into law,” he added. “I’ll continue to fight for the people who have had their lives upended due to Washington’s failure to protect our border and call the cartels what they truly are—terrorists.”
In January, Gonzales introduced the Security First Act (H.R.163), and a part of the legislation is aimed at designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
Cartels have been buying precursor chemicals from China to make fentanyl and ship finished products to the United States.
“The root cause of the fentanyl crisis in America is the Chinese Communist Party,” Gonzales wrote on Twitter in February. “The U.S. must secure our border and stand strong against China for the sake of all Americans.”