WASHINGTON, D.C. – This weekend, a bipartisan delegation of congressional members went to El Paso, Texas, to assess the current situation at the U.S.-Mexican border. During the visit, they met with representatives from Customs and Border Protection and visited an Health and Human Services Unaccompanied Alien Children shelter in Tornillo, Texas.
Afterwards, they offered their impressions of the trip.
“I went on this trip with more questions than answers,” First District Congressman Roger Marshall said. “I quickly realized on my visit that there’s not a perfect fix.”
According to Department of Homeland Security’s statistics, arrests at the border are up to more than 50,000 individuals a month, the congressman reported. The number of family units entering the country illegally has quadrupled from last year, while unaccompanied children crossing the border has tripled.
“For as long as people continue to break our laws and enter the country illegally, there will be massive stress on any system we create,”Rep. Marshall said. “While we try to show compassion to everyone, keeping our border secure is a top priority. Without border security, no immigration plan will work effectively.”
Marshall was startled to learn that there are 12,000 children currently in the care of HHS. Contrary to the impression given by national news, less than 20 percent of those children were separated from their families at the border. 83 percent of the children illegally crossed the border alone.
“First and foremost, my main goal was to make sure that these children were in good health and have access to all of the resources they need,” Dr. Marshall said. “Despite the mainstream media’s reports, the UAC facility in Tornillo is taking great care of these children giving them medical attention as well as the diet and cleanliness they need during this time.”
Roughly 7 percent of the kids held in the facility Dr. Marshall toured were separated from their family. According to HHS 94 percent of these children crossed the border alone, with a coyote, drug smuggler or were a victim of human trafficking.
“The situation at the border is serious. But we must also acknowledge our border patrol agents and their hard work,” Congressman Marshall said.
“They’ve given their own personal items, food, stuffed animal etc. to care for these children.”
The site opened earlier this month and houses boys and girls ages 13 to 17, including children who were separated from their parents as a result of the President’s now-rescinded family separation policy, said Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. She spoke with some of those children, toured the facilities, and met with Administration officials to inquire about their plans to reunite children with their parents.
“As a mom, it was important for me to speak directly with these children and to hear their stories firsthand,” Murphy said. “Securing our borders must be a priority but separating families is not the answer. Separated migrant children must be reunited with their parents as soon as possible.”
The Tornillo detention site, which can hold up to 400 people, was built to accommodate overflow from other detention facilities after the Trump Administration implemented its family separation policy. It is similar to the types of sites that are established in the wake of natural disasters. Some of the children Murphy spoke with said they have been in federal detention for three months.
“It’s clear the Administration implemented its family separation policy without planning for the consequences, leading to chaos and confusion,” said Murphy, who previously helped coordinate disaster response efforts at the Department of Defense. “I am concerned that federal agencies are not working together in close coordination to swiftly reunite children and their parents and to bring this crisis to an end.”
On the agenda
This week the House will vote on H.R. 6136, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act.
This legislation would:
• Require DHS to maintain the care and custody of alien families that illegally cross the border together throughout their proceedings
• Has a legislative fix for DACA recipients
• Provides advanced appropriations of $25 billion for border security funding
Other members of the delegation were U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., as well as U.S. representatives Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Mike Coffman, R-Colo.; Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn.; Contre Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas; Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.; and Tom Suozzi D-N.Y.