Harlingen, Texas — This week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) led a bipartisan trip to the Rio Grande Valley Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border to seek information about the sudden surge of children, teenagers, and families – largely from Central America – attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. On the first day, the congressional delegation toured several federal facilities and met with federal officials at a Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement facility, the McAllen Border Patrol Station, and Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville. The group also went on a riverine tour with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on the Rio Grande River to witness firsthand the challenges the Border Patrol faces. On the second day, members spent the day at the Port Isabel Detention Facility where they met with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), CBP, and HHS.
Below are key findings from the briefings.
1. The vast majority of Central American minors who are unaccompanied meet up with their parents who are already in the United States illegally. Further, these parents often had a role in smuggling the minors into the United States. While touring several federal facilities, minors traveling from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras stated that they came here to be with a parent who is already in the United States illegally. At a tour of the HHS facility housing boys ages 8-17, Members were told that the phone is ringing off the hook with parents looking for their children who they know made - and often directed to make - the dangerous journey to the U.S. While Chairmen Goodlatte and Issa were on a ride-along with the Border Patrol along the Rio Grande, they witnessed the apprehension of a mother and child from El Salvador and a 15-year-old boy from Honduras. The boy said he came to reunite with his mother, who has been in Los Angeles since he was six. Both said they were coming here in violation of law.
2. Border Patrol agents say the best way to stop this crisis is deterrence.Border Patrol agents stated unequivocally that the best way to stop the surge of Central Americans is deterrence and there must be an end of what is now essentially “catch and release.” However, it’s clear that currently there are little, if any, consequences for illegal immigration. Word has spread to the Americas and beyond that women and children are not priorities for removal, as outlined in the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement “priorities.” Additionally, many of these minors and families are able to game the asylum process since most applications are rubberstamped for approval. In fact, an internal Department of Homeland Security report states there is proven or possible fraud in up to 70% of asylum applications.
3. Stringent environmental rules prevent Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector from accessing federal lands along the border. Border Patrol agents cited restrictions on federal lands as a burden to doing their job of securing the border. The Departments of Interior and Agriculture currently have rules that prevent Border Patrol agents from accessing federal lands within 100 miles of the border under the guise of environmental preservation. The House Judiciary Committee has passed legislation, the SAFE Act, which would stop this foolish policy.
Based on these findings, Chairman Goodlatte released the following statement:
“This trip has confirmed that the current crisis at the border is a disaster of President Obama’s own making. While there are some laws that complicate how we deal with minors from Central America coming the U.S. illegally, it is crystal clear that President Obama has many tools he could use now to quell this activity in the Rio Grande Valley and prevent minors from making the dangerous journey to the United States. If President Obama wants to stop this problem, he should enforce our immigration laws and quit using his pen and phone to create administrative legalization programs. Additionally, he needs to direct officials at the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on asylum fraud and implement deterrents to stop people from entering in violation of the law. This would send the unequivocal message that it is no longer worth the risk to subject children to the dangers of the perilous trip north to our southern border. President Obama created this crisis and he has the power to stop it now. Children’s lives are at stake, and so is the integrity of our immigration system.”
Background: The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics estimates that the illegal migration of minors will grow from 6,500 in FY 2011 to an estimated 142,000 in 2015. As of last week, DHS has seen about 50,000 minors attempting to cross into the United States and over 40,000 family members for FY 2014. The estimated number to be apprehended in 2014 represents a 1,381% increase since 2011, while the projected number of 142,000 apprehensions in 2015 represents a 2,232% increase.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee joining Chairman Goodlatte in traveling to the border include Representatives Darrell Issa (R-, Calif.), Blake Fahrenthold (R-Texas), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), and Joe Garcia (D-Fla.).